A timely survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that 58% of Americans believe it is essential that the U.S. continues to be a leader in space exploration. The U.S. space shuttle program begins its final mission today, thirty years after the first shuttle, Columbia, was sent out in 1981. A majority of those polled (55%) say the shuttle program was a good investment, a healthy percentage but lower than figures in the 1980s, when sixty percent or more believed it was a good investment.Majorities across demographic groups believe continued U.S. space exploration is essential. This holds true for partisan groups as well, although a higher percentage of Republicans (67%) believe it is essential, as compared with independents (57%) and Democrats (54%).
Those with a higher level of education are more likely to view the space shuttle program as a good investment. Approximately two-thirds of college graduates (66%) say it was a good investment, along with 57% of Americans with some college education. The percentage drops among those with lower levels of education, with 47% of Americans with no college education saying the program was a good investment, as compared with 43% who say it was not.
Wealthier families--those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more--are more likely to evaluate the program favorably: 67% of those families say it was a good investment, compared with only 27% who say it was not. Families with incomes under $30,000 per year are more divided in their evaluations, with 44% viewing the program favorably and 47% unfavorably.And while large majorities say the space shuttle program "helped encourage interest in science, led to scientific advances and contributed to feelings of patriotism...no more than about four-in-ten say that the program has contributed 'a lot' in any of these areas."