WASHINGTON — The American public is skeptical that private ventures will be able to launch “ordinary people” into space in the coming decades, and is split about spending money on government-led human space exploration, a new poll indicates.

The Monmouth University Poll results, released Feb. 16, showed that a majority of Americans believe private companies should be permitted to launch people into space, but also that they did not believe it likely those companies would be able to do so in next 20 to 30 years.

In the poll, 58 percent of people said private companies should be allowed to launch people in space, versus 37 percent who said that human spaceflight should be left to governments alone. However, 55 percent thought it was not likely that “ordinary people will be able to travel regularly” into space in the next 20 to 30 years, while 44 percent said such travel would be somewhat or very likely.

Most people also said they were unwilling to fly in space themselves: 69 percent said they would decline a free trip into space, while 28 percent said they would accept it. The poll did not specify what kind of trip — suborbital or orbital — was offered.

The poll revealed a sharp difference in gender, with men more willing than women to believe private ventures should be allowed to fly people in space. Men supported private over government-only human spaceflight by a margin of 71 to 26 percent. Women, though were, more evenly split, with 44 percent backing private human spaceflight and 49 percent supporting government-only efforts.

Fifty percent of those polled said the U.S. government should not spend “billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids.” Credit: NASA

The public is also divided about spending money on government human space exploration. Asked if the U.S. government should spend “billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids,” 50 percent said no, while 42 percent said yes.

As with private spaceflight, there was a strong gender split, with 50 percent of men, but only 36 percent of women, supporting spending on human space exploration. There was, by contrast, little difference by party affiliation.

The poll showed greater support for government spending on space in general. Asked if increased spending on the space program in general would be “a good investment for the country,” 51 percent agreed and 43 percent disagreed.

The poll is based on a telephone survey of 1,008 people in December, and has an overall margin of error of 3.1 percent.


Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...