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Majority of Americans say they expect astronauts on Mars by 2033

In spite of its present shoestring budget, the American public believes NASA will succeed in sending astronauts to Mars within two decades.

This and other optimistic opinions about NASA’s exploration of the Red Planet come from a recent poll by the global communications company Phillips & Company. Carried out on behalf of the nonprofit Explore Mars, Phillips & Company surveyed 1,101 people, asking for opinions ranging from estimating NASA’s portion of the federal budget to providing their visions for Mars exploration.

The results are encouraging for space exploration enthusiasts. Of those surveyed, 71 percent felt confident that the United States will send a human to Mars by 2033.

The sample set’s pride in NASA’s achievements and confidence in NASA’s capacities contrasted with their estimation of NASA’s budget. When told that NASA currently explores the surface of Mars with two high-tech rovers, they were asked to estimate what percentage of the federal budget goes to support NASA’s missions.  With a standard deviation of 1.6 percent, the sample set believed the US government allocates 2.4 percent of its budget for space exploration.

These estimates recall an earlier time in NASA’s history, when funding for the agency was more abundant. During the 1960s and 70s when the Apollo Program was in full swing NASA was allocated 2.8 percent of the federal budget. Unfortunately, the current allocation is much less than this: the US government allocated a mere 0.5 percent of its federal budget in 2013 to NASA.

Once the survey responders were informed of NASA’s actual budget of $17.7 billion, 75 percent agreed or strongly agreed that NASA should obtain at least double its current funding allocation. The respondents argued that it would be “worthwhile to increase NASA’s percentage of the federal budget to 1 percent to fund a mission to Mars.”

NASA works wonders with very little funding, but could do much more with an expanded budget. Sending a human to Mars would be immensely more expensive than sending another rover like Curiosity, and those who support NASA’s continued exploration of Mars could write to their representatives to ask for an increase in the space agency’s budget.

“Despite difficult economic times, the American people are still inspired by space exploration and are committed to human exploration of Mars,” said Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars. “This is a wakeup call to our leaders that Americans are still explorers.”