A study to determine the public’s opinion of the us space program



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A STUDY TO DETERMINE THE PUBLIC’S OPINION OF THE US SPACE PROGRAM

by

Virginia Jerisica Wright


A Graduate Capstone Project

Submitted to the Worldwide Campus

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement of the Degree of

Master of Aeronautical Science

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Worldwide Campus

Cheyenne Center

March 2007

A STUDY TO DETERMINE THE PUBLIC’S OPINION OF THE US SPACE PROGRAM

by

Virginia Jerisica Wright



This Graduate Capstone Project

was prepared under the direction of the candidate’s Research Committee Member,

Dr. Walter Goedecke, Professor, Worldwide Campus, Ph. D.,

and the candidate’s Research Committee Chair,

Dr. Tom Schroeder, Professor, Worldwide Campus, D. B. A. has been

approved by the Project Review Committee. It was submitted

to the Worldwide Campus in Partial fulfillment of

the requirements for the degree of

Master of Aeronautical Science

PROJECT REVIEW COMMITTEE:

_______________________________________

Dr. Walter Goedecke, Ph. D.

Committee Member

_______________________________________

Dr. Tom Schroeder, D.B.A.

Committee Chair

ABSTRACT

Researcher: Virginia Jerisica Wright

Title: A Study to Determine the Public’s Opinion of the US Space Program
Institution: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Degree: Master of Aeronautical Science

Year: 2006

A contemporary popular topic is whether the US Space Program has the public support it had during the Apollo era; if so, this public mandate would assist space exploration. After the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, public support of the US space program dipped. The purpose of this study is to determine what the current level of support Americans have for the US space program. A survey was administered to determine the current support of the US Space program, and the results were then compared to historical surveys to determine a trend.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
PROJECT REVIEW COMMITTEE ii

ABSTRACT iii

LIST OF TABLES vii

LIST OF FIGURES viii

Chapter

I INTRODUCTION



Background 1

Researcher’s Work Setting and Role 2

Statement of the Problem 3

Limitations and Assumptions 3

II REVIEW OF RELEVANT LITERATURE AND RESEARCH

The Importance of Public Opinion 4

Public Opinion Throughout History

Support of the US Space Program during Normal 5

Times
Public Opinion after an Accident 6
Apollo 7
Challenger 8
Columbia 10
Space Program Survey Questions 11
Statement of Hypothesis 13

III RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Research Design 14

Survey Population 15

The Data Gathering Device 15

Distribution Method 16

Instrument Reliability 17

Instrument Validity 17

IV RESULTS

Introduction 19

Question One 20

Question Two 21

Question Three 22

Question Four 23

Question Five 24

Conclusion 25

V ANALYSIS

The Survey Population 26

Question One 26

Question Two 27

Question Three 27

Question Four 28

Question Five 29 Statistical Analysis 30

VI CONCLUSIONS

Summary 31

Comparing Results to Hypotheses 32

VII RECOMMENDATIONS 33

REFERENCES 34

BIBLIOGRAPHY 35

APPENDICES



  1. Phone Survey 36

  2. Hand-out Survey 38

LIST OF TABLES
Table Page

1 Results Summary 29

LIST OF FIGURES
Figure Page

1 Should the government fund human trips to the moon 8

2 Support of various aspects of the US space program 11

7 Question 1 20

13 Question 2 21

14 Question 3 22

15 Question 4 23

16 Question 5 24

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION

Background

Throughout the researcher’s studies as a student at Embry Riddle, the US space program has gone through its ups and downs. Recently, during an aeronautical science class, some students discussed whether the US space program would achieve the popularity of its glory days during the Apollo missions and the space race with the Soviet Union, and, what might be needed for the US space program to regain its former glory. Recently, the space program has had successes with Cassini and the International Space Station, although, it has had devastating failures with the Mars Lander and Columbia accidents. What impact do these events have for the future of the US space program? A program that does not have support cannot succeed. Any space professional with an interest in future space missions would be interested in knowing if the US space program is swirling down the drain, or going to continue and thrive.

Opinion of the US space program changed drastically after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. As an example of public opinion, Laurie Houle, a nurse and mother of three children, talked about her reaction after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. Mrs. Houle was horrified over the deaths of the astronauts and did not want to see any more astronauts risking their lives in manned shuttle missions. The year before the Columbia accident, she had been encouraging her own daughter to be an astronaut. Her support of manned missions reversed after the Columbia accident from enthusiastic support to extreme opposition. Mrs. Houle’s change in opinion is typical of many Americans after the shuttle accident. For weeks, the news held coverage of the accident, mourning over the astronauts. No one wanted to risk another astronaut in a shuttle accident. As a result, the US space program ground to a halt. All current and future missions had to be reconsidered, and, many missions were cancelled. This happened all because leaders in the space program were forced to react to a public that wanted to hang anyone responsible for putting astronauts in danger. No one seemed to remember that flying into space has always been dangerous. One might begin to wonder if the US public had always been so fickle. How could the US space program continue and succeed with such unpredictable support? NASA did have support, even though the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 2003 was hardly the first accident the US space program had. The US space program does still exists. Everyone has seen political and public support along with many successful missions since the Challenger accident. Supporters of the US space program believe that the US space program will recover from the Columbia accident. Is the US space program likely to regain the level of support it had before the Columbia accident? Has the public’s support of the space program ever reached the same levels of popularity it had during the Apollo missions? How long will it be until the US space program regains favor? These are the questions that will be addressed by this study.

Researcher’s Work Setting and Role

The researcher is an Embry Riddle Aeronautical University student pursuing a Masters Degree in Aeronautical Science with a specialization in Space Studies. She previously worked as a missileer in the United State Air Force, and is currently a research and development project manager working for the Air Force Research Laboratory at the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing site in Hawaii. She has completed aerospace and research methods coursework necessary to accomplish this research.

Statement of the Problem

There is incomplete data on present day perceptions of the US space program. The intent of this study is to find out what the current opinions are on the US space program with an emphasis placed on the effect of accidents on opinions. Since the Space Shuttle Columbia accident was the most recent significant event, it is assumed that it will be the most influential contributor to opinions on the space program. The data obtained will be compared to past trends to determine if US citizens do again support the space program to that level of support it once had.

Limitations and Assumptions

The survey used in this study was conducted over a limited sample due to time and budget constraints. Although constrained by resources, the research method should work well on a convenience sample. The survey was administered mostly to members in the community near Bremerton, Washington. A substantial contributor to the economy of this area is the Navy base and shipyard located in the area. This may introduce a bias towards favor for the US space program if association with the Navy has increased the population’s interest in and favor for the space program. An area of concern is whether this sample is typical of any sample population that may be obtained throughout the United States. Although this is a limited population, it is assumed that the views of the individuals sampled will reflect the views of informed people across the nation.

CHAPTER II

REVIEW OF RELEVANT LITERATURE AND RESEARCH

The Importance of Public Opinion

The U.S. government’s National Aeronautics and Space Agency, NASA, runs the national space program. As a government agency, everything NASA does is dictated by the government: the amount of funding NASA receives, the direction its missions will take, and the tolerable safety risks. The United States has a representative form of government, so, we elect congressional representatives and a president to represent our views and make decisions for us on how our government is run. Naturally, it is important for these representatives to understand how the people they represent feel about particular issues. Today’s polls give elected officials an idea of what is important to the people they represent. A social science historian says that pollsters “saw their roll as providing a continuous measurement of public opinion which would supplement and strengthen the normal operations of representative government and protect it from the domination of lobbyist and special interests” (Converse, 1987 p. 122). Polls give politicians an idea of what is important to the public they represent, but unfortunately, a desire to accurately represent their citizens is not the sole reason politicians pay attention to the polls. Polls become important around election time, when many Americans take the time to consider what their views are and decide where they stand on issues. Albert J. Cantril in The Opinion Connection Polling Politics and the Press says:

One agenda-setting consequence of public opinion polling is that it shortens the amount of time required for an issue to come to the attention of the political community….Polls also bring issues into political campaigns. Reports from constituency groups, party officials, and others whom candidates rely for political intelligence can well miss specific issues and themes of concern in the lives of voters. Polls uniquely can asses how salient or pervasive an emerging set of issues is among the public (Cantril, 1991 p. 223).

It is clear that what is important to the majority of Americans is important to politicians. If space exploration is important to Americans, politicians are likely to make policies that will advance the US space program.

Public Opinion throughout History


Support of the US Space Program during Normal Times


Space exploration is generally well thought of by most Americans. Children are taught about space in school and many dream of growing up to be astronauts. A generation later, these children have become voting adults with respect and awe for space exploration. After researching trends in poll responses related to space, R.D. Lanius finds:

Overall, there has been consistently good news for NASA and the cause of human space exploration. The public has always, insofar as data exists, accorded NASA a quite favorable rating. This is unusual for most federal agencies, as the low opinion held by the public for such organizations as the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Health and Human Services attest.

For example, while Americans may not know much about the space program, they have a largely favorably opinion of it—over 70 percent say they have a favorable impression, compared to less than 20 percent that hold an unfavorable impression. And this tracks over the entire life of this particular question, from 1978 to 1999 (Lanius, 2003 p. 164).

Support for the United States space program is very high, and has always been high, except immediately after a space related disaster.

One aspect of the US space program’s popularity with the American public is that it is a source of national pride. Not to long ago, the United States was engaged in a space race with the former Soviet Union. If the United States made either a historic or a scientific breakthrough first, it proved the United States was the best. American citizens still take pride in the space program. They will always want to prove themselves the best in the international community.

Public Opinion after an Accident


There have been many public opinion polls trying to gauge American’s views on space throughout history. Most polls naturally focus on the opinions of the here and now, but there is not much research on how opinions changes over time on space issues. An international study looked into “the impact of nuclear accidents on attitudes toward nuclear energy” (Catsburg and De Boer, 1988 pp. 254-261). Nuclear power is a much more volatile subject than the US space program since it has such a high likelihood of impacting citizens’ health and safety. Although nuclear power is a more volatile subject, it is similar to the space program in the importance of safety. The clear result of the study of nuclear accidents was a decrease in support of nuclear energy after an accident with a gradual return to the same levels of support as before the accident (Catsburg and De Boer, 1988 pp. 254-261). If support of nuclear power can return after an accident, then surely support of the US space program will return after an accident.

Apollo

The Apollo missions are thought by some to be the golden age of spaceflight. There was much significant advancement during this period, more than any other. There were also many mission failures. Still, NASA was able to recover from the failures and had several successful missions. Popular belief is that the space race provided the drive for the advancement of the US space program at that time and its ability to recover from failure. People today believe that the entire nation supported the space program. R.D. Lanius discovered that there was not as much support of NASA during the 1960s as people today think:

While there may be reason to accept that Apollo was transcendentally important at some sublime level, assuming a generally rosy public acceptance of it is at best a simplistic and ultimately unsatisfactory conclusion….in the summer of 1965 one third of the nation favored cutting the space budget, while only 16 percent wanted to increase it. Over the next three-and-one-half years, the number in favor of cutting space spending went up to 40 percent, with those preferring an increase dropping to 14 percent….Polls in the 1960s also consistently ranked spaceflight near the top of those programs to be cut in the federal budget (Lanius, 2003 p. 166).

Americans were not only uninterested in spending the federal budget on space, but they were also not interested in the space race.

The American public during the 1960s largely showed a hesitancy to “race” the Soviets to the Moon as shown in Fig. 5. [Fig 1] “Would you favor or oppose US government spending to send astronauts to the Moon?” these polls asked, and in virtually all cases a majority opposed doing so, even during the height of Apollo. At only one point, October 1965, did more than half of the public favor continuing human lunar exploration (Lanius, 2003 p. 166).
The US space program did not have the enthusiastic public support people today thought it had. It was however, an important political tool used to prove to the world that the United States is the best. This political support allowed for the success of the Apollo missions.

Figure 1. Should the government fund human trips to the Moon (Lanius, 2003 p. 167).
Challenger

After the Apollo missions, the space shuttle became the major focal point of the US space program in the public eye. The Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986 was a dramatic event in American history that many people will always remember. There was much news coverage before the Space Shuttle Challenger was ready to launch because it was the first launch with a civilian astronaut, an elementary teacher. Everyone was watching since this launch was bringing spaceflight to the common person. When the space shuttle was destroyed, killing everyone aboard, the nation was devastated. As a result of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident, safety standards were tightened making the requirements for space flight more stringent.

Americans were afraid for the lives of the astronauts, negatively affecting the support for manned missions. R.D. Lanius found that although Americans “consistently agreed that the Space Shuttle is a good investment” it did not translate to “willingness on the part of the public to fly in space” (Lanius, 2003 p. 168). People did not want to risk sending men into space if a robotic mission would suffice.

…for most of the Shuttle era—1981 to the present—the public has believed that robotic spaceflight should be pursued more aggressively than the human program that relied on the shuttle. Between 1989 and 1997 several polls asked the question, “Should the US space program concentrate on unmanned missions like planetary probes or on manned programs such as the space shuttle?” Consistently until 1995, the answer came back that more Americans favored robotic missions over the Shuttle flights. This changed suddenly in the summer of 1995 and the public has favored human missions over probes since that time (Lanius 2003, p. 170).

There are two likely reasons for the population’s change in favor of manned missions in 1995. Lanius discovered:

…for the first time in the summer of 1995 the Space Shuttle docked with the Russian space station, Mir, and began a series of cooperative missions. The excitement of the Shuttle/Mir program may have sparked recognition of the importance of human exploration in opening the high frontier of space.

But there seems also to have been more to any changes than the Shuttle/Mir program. The pollsters suggested in their analysis that there seems to have been a close relationship between public perceptions NASA and spaceflight depictions in popular culture. For example, the film Apollo 13 seems to have been an important factor in the shift in favor of human spaceflight over robotic missions in 1995. Coming out in the summer of 1995, it excited the public, as the reality of human spaceflight had not done for several years (Lanius, 2003 p. 167).

The movie industry in Hollywood, California, has a huge influence over what Americans think about a subject. While Hollywood and the news can have a positive impact on perceptions of manned flight, accidents, such as the Space Shuttle Challenger accident, have a negative impact on perceptions of manned spaceflight.



Columbia

The Space Shuttle Columbia accident on February 1, 2003 was the most recent major space accident since Challenger. The deaths of the astronauts returning to earth rocked the US, again plummeting opinion on manned space flight. Countering this influence was President Bush’s “Vision for US Space Exploration” on January 14, 2004 with its commitment to continuing manned missions and the promise to return to the moon and then travel to Mars (Bush, 2004). Surveys were conducted immediately after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, but not much is known about current opinion of the US Space program and whether it has regained the popularity it once had.





Figure 2. Support of various aspects of the US Space program (ICR/AP Poll # 2003-928: Space Program, 2003).
Space Program Survey Questions

Polls concerning the US Space Program have asked a variety of questions throughout the years. The same questions are not always asked. The questions that were asked depend on who is conducting the survey, and what is the hot topic of the day. R.D. Lanius has done a thorough review of these surveys to glean what conclusions can be drawn from them. For the purpose of this project, only questions from a survey conducted shortly after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in July of 2003 will be used. The results of this survey are displayed in Figure 2 and will be used as a comparison for the results of the survey conducted as part of this project.

Question 1 asked “Do you think the space program is a good investment for this country, or don’t you?” 73% responded “good investment” while 20% responded “not a good investment.” Question 2 asked, “In light of the space shuttle accident in February in which seven astronauts were killed, do you think the United States should or should not continue to send humans into space?” 76% said the US should and 20% said should not. Question 3 asked, “Do you think the United States should or should not pursue a program to send humans to Mars?” Only 52% responded should, and 40 percent responded should not. Question 4 asked, “Do you feel that civilian astronauts, such as journalists, politicians and school teachers should or should not participate in any future space shuttle flights?” 58% responded they should participate and 37 percent responded they should not participate. Question 5 asked, “As you may know, the space shuttle program is more than 20 years old and has experienced two accidents that killed the crew members of both shuttles. Do you think the space shuttle should be grounded or do you think the space shuttle should continue to fly?” 71% responded it should continue to fly while 25% responded it should be grounded (ICR/AP Poll # 2003-928: Space Program, 2003). These responses show the continued support the American people have for the space program along with their hesitancy to risk civilians. Also of note are the smaller number of people who support a mission to Mars, and the larger number of people who oppose it, compared to the other questions that show a strong support of other space programs. This survey was taken before President Bush’s “Vision for US Space Exploration” speech that called for manned missions to Mars (Bush, 2004). It will be interesting to see if opinions have changed regarding missions to Mars. This survey was selected over others because it asks questions pertinent to reactions to accidents and because it was conducted shortly after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident.

Statement of the Hypothesis

The US Space program has had great success and support from both the public and from politicians. This support drops after an accident and has resulted in a switch in favor from manned missions to robotic missions. While support temporarily drops off after an accident, the US space program has, throughout its history, again regained support from the public. Politicians continue to support the US space program by using it as a political tool. This study will investigate to discover if the US space program has again regained the popularity that it had before the Space Shuttle Columbia accident by measuring current perceptions of the US space program. This will be accomplished by conducting the same survey that was conducted in 2003 and comparing results. The first alternate hypothesis is that those surveyed have more favorable views on space exploration than the ICR/AP Poll # 2003-928: Space Program. The second alternate hypothesis is those surveyed have worse views on space exploration as the ICR/AP Poll # 2003-928: Space Program. The null hypothesis is those surveyed will have the same views on space exploration as the ICR/AP Poll # 2003-928: Space Program.

CHAPTER III

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Research Design

A causal comparative design test, was used to determine if public opinion of the US Space program had changed over time. Surveys conducted over several years have measured many different aspects of the US space program. As the objectives of the space program changed over the years, along with changes in political support, the questions asked of the public about the US space program have changed. One thing had remained the same; US citizens hold their space program in high regard. This test determined if the high opinion of the US space program had remained since the Columbia accident. To accomplish this, a historical survey conducted shortly after the Columbia accident was repeated.

Several different historical surveys were reviewed. Most focused on specific areas of the US space program such as trips to the moon, missions to mars, and the space shuttle. Because of the changing focus of the US space program, the survey questions varied. A survey was chosen that asked general questions about public perceptions on the US space program along with questions focused on opinion after an accident. This survey was chosen as the basis of this study because it most directly relates to the areas the researcher wants to focus. This survey was re-administered to determine the current opinion on the US space program. Due to time and budget constraints a convenience sample was used.

Survey Population

The survey was conducted to members of the community near Bremerton, Washington. Individuals over the age of 18 were selected at random. The population was broken down into categories based on occupation to determine if occupation influenced the results.

The Data Gathering Device

The data gathering device was a survey that was administered on paper or over the phone. Questions identical to a survey conducted in 2003, after the Columbia accident, were asked . The purpose of asking identical questions was to replicate the conditions of the survey of 2003 so that the only influence on the population’s answers is a change in opinion, not in the conduct of the test. Question one determines the participant’s feeling about the US space program as a whole while reminding the participant that there is a cost for the space program. Question two gauges reaction to the Space Shuttle Columbia accident and willingness to risk human lives for the space program. Question three measures the subject’s attitudes towards a well known future space goal. Question four gauges the influence of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident on people’s attitudes, and, question five isolates attitudes about the space shuttle with respect to the two accidents from the US space program as a whole. These five questions serve to measure what Americans think about the US space program and how the Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia accidents affected their opinions.

In addition to the questions identical to the 2003 survey, two questions were added to determine how interested a participant is in space. The purpose of this is twofold. One reason is that the interest in space of the US population is fundamental to this study. People in an occupation that relates to space are more likely to be more interested in space topics. Another reason is to determine if the population sampled was for some reason different from the typical population in a way that will influence the results. These two questions helped determine the validity of the population

The number of questions was kept at a minimum to increase participation. With greater participation, it was anticipated that the surveyed population would closely match the total population.

Distribution Method

Many people are justifiably skeptical of survey results. Results can be biased based on the way they are worded. Results can be affected if the person administering the survey showed favor one way or the other for the topic of the survey, that can greatly affect the results. These effects had been minimized in three ways. The person administering the survey was not allowed to discuss the topic of the survey. Every opportunity was taken to get as many participants as possible. Additionally, the person selecting participants and administering the survey was unaware of the research topic being explored, except that it was regarding the US space program. Finally, since the survey wording was exactly the same as the survey conducted three years ago after the Columbia disaster, wording cannot contribute to a change in results. By using these strategies, instrument reliability was maximized as much as was feasible.

The surveys were conducted by asking participants to fill out paper surveys or answer questions over the phone. Participants were allowed to complete the survey without interruption, interference, or distractions.

Instrument Reliability

The survey used in this study replicated the survey conducted in 2003 after the Columbia disaster. Therefore, the researcher did not choose the questions. While this survey was chosen because the researcher believed it would examine topics of interest that are pertinent to the research topic, the designers of the original survey likely had different objectives, and, they no doubt did not design it to be used again. It is unknown how this survey was validated or whether it has been standardized and proved to be reliable. It was expected that any reliability issues of the survey conducted in 2003 were replicated when the survey was repeated in 2006. Since the reliability issues remained the same, it is assumed that the results should be comparable.

Instrument Validity

In addition to the concerns on instrument reliability, the survey had similar concerns on validity. One concern is that the original survey was not designed to address the subject of this study. Additionally, the survey was not tested to determine if the wording of the questions tested opinions on space because altering the words was not an option based on the design of the test. However, from an examination of the questions, the survey appeared to be valid in that the wording of the questions did not unduly bias a particular answer and that they are simple to understand. They appeared to be written to clearly address the subject of the space program and eliminate any other influences on a participant’s answers. The questions were clearly written, to be easily understood by those surveyed and provide options that will reflect participant’s views. While the original purpose and validity of the individual survey questions is unknown, it was assumed the questions that were asked adequately determined opinions of the US space program.

In addition to the original survey questions, two questions were added to help determine instrument validity. Instrument validity was measured by examining participants’ occupations. It was assumed that some occupations will determine if a participant will be more interested in space exploration while others not. A question asking about the participant’s interest in space was added to see if interest in space was related to occupation. By examining the results to see if a broad range of occupations is represented, and checking for differences in interest based on occupation, it was determined that the population surveyed was typical of any sample population in the United States. More questions on demographics were not added in order to keep the survey short and to encourage more people to participate. Additionally, it was required that a minimum of 30 participants take the survey to ensure that the sample population included enough participants to represent the population as a whole.

CHAPTER IV

RESULTS


Introduction

The survey was administered by Otho William Stevens Jr. to friends, family, and co-workers. Mr. Stevens, who lives and works in Bremerton, Washington, is a test engineer working for a Navy defense contractor. A total of 95 individuals were asked to complete the survey. 35 surveys were attempted over the phone. Of the 35 attempted, only 15 individuals were willing to participate. 60 individuals were asked to complete

paper surveys, but only 45 participated. This resulted in a total of 60 participants, all of whom answered the survey completely. Question 6 results indicated that of the 60 participants, 20 people worked from home, 20 were government contractors or test engineers, 10 were college students, and 10 were retail or restaurant employees. All survey participants indicated a positive interest in space; 30 said they were somewhat interested, and, 30 said they were very interested in space.



Figure 3. Question one.
Question One

Question one asked, “Do you think the space program is a good investment for this country, or don’t you think so?” 100% of participants responded the space program is a good investment. The figure above shows the results of the 2006 and 2003 surveys. The 2006 results show an increase in the percentage of people who think the space program is a good investment. This indicates a higher opinion about the space program in 2006 than 2003.





Figure 4. Question two.
Question Two

Question two asked, “In light of the space shuttle accident in February 2003 in which seven astronauts were killed, do you think the United States should or should not

continue to send humans into space?” 100% responded the United States should continue to send humans into space compared to only 76% in 2003. It appears public opinion on sending humans into space was much higher in 2006.



Figure 5. Question three.
Question Three

The third question asked “Do you think the United States should or should not pursue a program to send humans to Mars?” 80% of the 2006 participants thought the

United States should pursue a program to Mars. This represents a major shift in opinion on what programs the United States space program should pursue, considering only 52% of the 2003 population supported sending humans to Mars. This dramatic change in support of a program was particularly interesting since the change happened only over three years and the lifecycle of a program is typically much longer than three years.



Figure 6. Question four.
Question Four

Question four asked, “Do you feel that civilian astronauts, such as journalists,

politicians, and school teachers should or should not participate in any future space shuttle flights?” 60% of the 2006 respondents and 58% of the 2003 respondents thought civilian astronauts should participate in future space shuttle flights, and, 40% of the 2006 respondents and 37% of the 2003 respondents thought they should not participate.



Figure 7. Question five.
Question Five

Question five asked, “As you may know, the space shuttle program is more than 20 years old and has experienced two accidents that killed the crew members of both shuttles. Do you think the space shuttle should be grounded, or do you think the space shuttle should continue to fly?” This question, similar to three of the four earlier questions, showed an increased public opinion for the space program. 100% of the 2006 survey respondents thought the space shuttle should continue to fly. This is a 29% increase over the 2003 results, where only 71% of respondents thought the space shuttle should continue to fly.

Conclusion

Questions six and seven, which asked about occupation and interest in space, determined the that the survey population was adequate. With the exception of question four, all results showed a significant increase in public opinion between 2003 and 2006. Question four showed no change between 2003 and 2006. In summary, most questions showed an increase in opinion for the space program.


CHAPTER V

DISCUSSION

The Survey Population

The survey population is worth examining to determine if there are any extreme biases towards particular answers that are not representative of the entire population. Questions five and six obtained information about occupation, and interest in the space program. Question six showed a broad mix of occupations indicating the results of the survey are not unduly biased. All respondents, regardless of occupation, indicated they were somewhat or very interested in the space program, thus indicating that their interest in space was consistent across occupations. The conclusions that can be drawn from the results of these two questions are that there are not any undue biases towards particular answers, and, that the sample population, although only one geographic area was studied, is as typical to the entire population as is feasible given the scope of this study.

Question One

The purpose of question one was to determine perceptions on the space program while reminding participants that the space program is a national investment and alluding to the fact that it has a cost. Based on historical research, it is expected that public opinion on the space program would fall immediately after an accident and return to previous levels over time. Typically, the US space program has had a long history of great support. The responses to this question indicate that public opinion on the US space program has regained the level of support it had prior to the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident. This question, public opinion of the US space program, is the most general and best suited for the subject of this study.

Question Two

Question two, along with question five, most directly determined the effect of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident on public opinion. Question two directly measures individuals’ opinions on sending humans into space and indirectly measures their willingness to risk human lives on the space program. It is not surprising that immediately after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, when one could not escape media coverage detailing every imaginable aspect of the mission, the population was hesitant to send humans into space. Media coverage showed distraught families grieving for their lost loved ones and telling of the heroic deeds of the departed astronauts. With all the media coverage, an individual was likely to believe that support of human space flight condemned the seven astronauts of the Space Shuttle Columbia to death. In light of this news coverage, it would take a strong individual, able to rationalize the benefits of space travel to the potential risk to life, to admit supporting human space travel. Over the three years, when memories of all the news coverage faded, and the issue was no longer so emotionally charged, Americans again regained their support of sending humans into space.

Question Three

Question three measured support of a specific space program effort that is planned for the future. While it is understandable that general attitudes towards the space program as a whole will affect opinions about any specific program, it is hard to know definitively whether an opinion about a specific program is due to opinions on the space program as a whole, or the particulars of that program. On January 14, 2004 President George W. Bush announced his new vision for US space exploration. Part of President Bush’s vision included sending men to Mars (Bush, 2004). This sparked new interest in sending people to Mars as Americans were inspired to come up with new ideas for how to achieve this goal. Interest in these new ideas did not happen overnight however. Not everyone has the ability to come up with a proposal to fly man to Mars. The ideas came out over time, continuously spawning optimism and excitement in those that were following the initiative. How much of an effect did President Bush’s vision for space exploration have on the surveys? How much of an effect did the excitement from the new proposals to send men to Mars have on the surveys? And how much of an effect did the Space Shuttle Columbia accident have on the surveys? The answer to these questions is outside of the scope of this study. The conclusion that can be drawn is that support for sending humans to Mars increased from 2003 to 2006, indicating an increase in public opinion of a specific aspect of the US space program.

Question Four

Question four measures reactions to the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. The media reaction to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was outrage that a civilian, an elementary school teacher, died in the accident. This question determines if individuals are still sensitive to the issue. The Space Shuttle Challenger accident was 17 years before the 2003 survey and 20 years before the 2006 survey. One would expect little change over three years for an event that happened so long ago. The results of the two surveys confirm little change over three years and indicate the instrument reliability of the survey. This question measures the impact of 17-20 years on an issue compared to just three years and shows that after 17 years the Challenger accident had little impact on people’s opinions.

Question Five



Question five measures opinions on a specific aspect of the space program, the space shuttle. The results of this question indicate that the 2003 respondents were greatly impacted by the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. This is evidenced by the larger percentage of respondents who felt the space shuttle should be grounded. It is difficult to say, however, whether the change in the percentage of individuals who thought the space shuttle should be grounded was caused solely by the passage of time since the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. At the time of the 2003 survey, no space shuttle had flown since the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. Prior to the 2006 survey, the space shuttle had already successfully accomplished four missions. The fact that the space shuttle had successfully flown since the accident might have affected the results. Also, this question does not distinguish those who oppose manned space flight from those that are opposed to the space shuttle continuing as the sole vehicle for manned space flight in the US. While it is unclear whether the passage of time, opinions on manned spaced flight, opinions on the shuttle as a space vehicle, or the successful flight of four missions influenced opinions on this question, it is clear that there is an increase in favorable opinion towards this aspect of the space program from 2003 to 2006.


Results Summary

Question

Answers

2003

2006

Change

  1. Do you think the space program is a good investment for this country or don’t you think so?

Good investment

73%

100%

27%

Not a good investment

20%

0%

-20%

  1. In light of the space shuttle accident in February 2003 in which seven astronauts were killed, do you think the United States should or should not continue to send humans into space?

Should

76%

100%

24%

Should not

20%

0%

-20%

  1. Do you think the United States should or should not pursue a program to send humans to Mars?

Should

52%

80%

28%

Should not

40%

20%

-20%

  1. Do you feel that civilian astronauts, such as journalists, politicians, and school teachers should or should not participate in any future space shuttle flights?

Should

58%

60%

2%

Should not

37%

40%

3%

  1. As you may know, the space shuttle program is more than 20 years old and has experienced two accidents that killed the crew members of both shuttles. Do you think the space shuttle should be grounded, or do you think the space shuttle should continue to fly?

Grounded

25%

0%

-25%

Fly

71%

100%

29%

Table 1. Results summary.
Statistical Analysis

The results were analyzed by Pearson’s chi square procedure, chosen appropriately because the survey obtained nominal data. Excel®, a registered trademark of Microsoft Inc., was used to perform the calculation. There are no known errors with the use of Excel® to perform the Pearson’s chi square procedure. The calculation was performed on the 2006 and 2003 data. The new 2006 data was compared to the 2003 data, considered the expected values. A result with a probability greater than 0.95 or less than 0.05 rejects the null hypothesis. The result obtained was of a probability less than 0.00001. This indicates that the results of the two surveys are statistically different and that there was a change in opinions from 2003 to 2006.

CHAPTER VI

CONCLUSION

Summary

Studying public opinion of the space program is important to any individual who cares about the future of the space program. Polls measure public opinion, and, public opinion is closely linked to politicians. Politicians use polls to gauge what is important to Americans. When politicians act in the true democratic spirit, they make policies in accordance with what the polls say the population wants. Since the federal government funds the United States space program, it is important that the polls show America’s interest in the space program so that politicians will pass laws that will allow the program to continue.



One factor that influences public opinion is accidents. Several astronauts have died in accidents throughout the history of the space program. These accidents have a negative impact on public opinion. Even though there is a negative impact to public opinion, it does not last forever. Historically, people eventually regain their approval of space exploration after an accident. A historical survey was found that was suitable for studying opinions on the space program and comparing results. This survey measured opinions in 2003 immediately after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. This survey was repeated in 2006 and the results compared. The results showed a public approval dip for the space program immediately after the Columbia accident followed by a return to high approval for the space program. This agrees with past trends and shows promise for a continuing future for the space program.

Comparing Results to Hypotheses

With the exception of question four, all five questions support the hypothesis that the people surveyed have more favorable views of the US space program than those surveyed in the ICR/AP Poll # 2003-928: Space Program. Question four supports the null hypothesis in that there was no change from 2003 to 2006. The inconsistent results between question four and the other questions is most likely due to the timing of the topics of the questions. The Space Shuttle Challenger accident occurred 20 years before the survey, the Columbia accident only 3 years prior to the survey. Questions one, two, three, and five more directly correspond to the Space Shuttle Columbia accident and views on the space program in general. Question four corresponds more to the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Since the Space Shuttle Challenger accident was 17-20 years before either survey, it did not have as much of an impact on opinions as the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. Excluding the results that measure an out-dated issue, it seems intuitive that those surveyed in 2006 approve more of space exploration than those surveyed in 2003. Analysis confirms that there is a statistical difference between the 2003 and 2006 surveys. For the purpose of this research, a probability less than 0.05 indicated that there is a significant difference between the two surveys. The probability calculated was less than 0.00001. Accordingly, one rejects the null hypothesis. This would indicate that after only three years, the nation had recovered from the low opinion of the space program as the result of an accident, and is again highly supportive of the space program.

CHAPTER VII

RECOMMENDATIONS

This study focused on the effect accidents have on the space program. Accidents are not the only factor that contributes to the success or failure of the space program. As R.D. Lanius suggested, pop culture also plays a role. Presidents can play a role such as President George W. Bush and his “Vision for US Space Exploration.” US military objectives such as the space race during the cold war play a role. It may be worthwhile to see how much of an effect these other factors have on the space program. With enough understanding of what contributes to a successful space program, it may be possible to influence the changes necessary to maximize the United States space program’s growth and minimize negative impacts such as accidents.

REFERENCES

Bush, G.W. (2004, January 14). New Vision for Space Exploration Program.

Retrieved February 7, 2007 from http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/ 01/20040114-3.html

Cantril, A.H. (1991). The Opinion Connection: Polling, Politics, and the Press.

Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc.

Catsburg, I. & De Boer, C. (1988). The Polls—A Report: The Impact of Nuclear

Accidents on Attitudes Toward Nuclear Energy. Public Opinion Quarterly, 52, 254-261.

Converse, J.M., (1987). Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emergence



1890-1960. Berkley: University of California Press.

ICR/AP Poll # 2003-928: Space Program (2003, July 11-15). Retrieved Febuary 7, 2007

from http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/

Lanius, R.D. (2003). Public Opinion Polls and Perceptions of U.S. Human Spaceflight.



Space Policy, 19 (3), 163-177.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

ABC News Poll: Science/Space Programs, (1997 July 8-9). Retrieved Febuary 7, 2007

from http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/

Cooper, D.R, & Schindler, P.S. (2003). Business Research Methods (8th Ed.). New

Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited.

Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll # 2003-09: Space Shuttle Columbia Crash Reaction (2003,

February 2). Retrieved Febuary 7, 2007 from http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/

Hacker, D., (2004). A Pocket Style Manual (4th Ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s

Hohenemser, C., Renn, O. (1988, April). Shifting Public Perceptions of Nuclear Risk:

Chernobyl’s Other Legacy. Environment, 30 (3), 4-11, 40-45.

Logdon, J., (2004). A Sustainable Rationale for Human Spaceflight. Issues in Science &

Technology, Winter 2004, 31-34.

Moore, D.W. (1992). The Superpollsters: How They Measure and Manipulate Public



Opinion in America. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.

Warren, K.F. (2001). In Defense of Public Opinion Polling. Boulder: Westview Press.


APPENDIX A

PHONE SURVEY



  1. Do you think the space program is a good investment for this country, or don’t you think so?

      1. Good investment

      2. Not a good investment

  1. (DO NOT READ) Don’t know

  2. (DO NOT READ) Refused

  1. In light of the space shuttle accident in February 2003 in which seven astronauts were killed, do you think the United States should or should not continue to send humans into space?

      1. Should

      2. Should not

8 (DO NOT READ) Don’t know

9 (DO NOT READ) Refused

3. Do you think the United States should _ or should not _ pursue a program to send humans to Mars?

1 Should


2 Should not

8 (DO NOT READ) Don’t know

9 (DO NOT READ) Refused
4. Do you feel that civilian astronauts, such as journalists, politicians, and school teachers should or should not participate in any future space shuttle flights?

1 Should participate

2 Should not participate

8 (DO NOT READ) Don’t know

9 (DO NOT READ) Refused

5. As you may know, the space shuttle program is more than 20 years old and has experienced two accidents that killed the crew members of both shuttles. Do you think the space shuttle should be grounded, or do you think the space shuttle should continue to fly?

1 Should be grounded

2 Should continue to fly

8 (DO NOT READ) Don’t know

9 (DO NOT READ) Refused

6. How interested are you in space?


  1. Very interested

  2. Somewhat interested

  3. Not very interested

  4. Not interested

8 (DO NOT READ) Don’t know

9 (DO NOT READ) Refused

7. What is your current occupation?

APPENDIX B

HAND-OUT SURVEY


  1. Do you think the space program is a good investment for this country, or don’t you think so?

      1. Good investment

      2. Not a good investment

  2. In light of the space shuttle accident in February 2003 in which seven astronauts were killed, do you think the United States should or should not continue to send humans into space?

      1. Should

      2. Should not

  3. Do you think the United States should _ or should not _ pursue a program to send humans to Mars?

1 Should

2 Should not



  1. Do you feel that civilian astronauts, such as journalists, politicians, and school teachers should or should not participate in any future space shuttle flights?

1 Should participate

2 Should not participate




  1. As you may know, the space shuttle program is more than 20 years old and has experienced two accidents that killed the crew members of both shuttles. Do you think the space shuttle should be grounded, or do you think the space shuttle should continue to fly?

      1. Should be grounded

      2. Should continue to fly

  2. How interested are you in space?

      1. Very interested

      2. Somewhat interested

      3. Not very interested

      4. Not interested

  3. What is your current occupation?





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