A poll published in Monday’s edition of USA Today has shown the American passion for the US Space Shuttle is alive and well, with nearly 75 per cent of those polled supporting the continuation of the multi-billion dollar program on the eve of the long-awaited Return to Flight of the fleet.
Discovery is now officially in her launch countdown, as NASA aim for a 3:51pm EDT (8:51pm UK time) lift off on Wednesday – with current weather forecasts noting a 70 per cent chance of acceptable conditions to launch.
While internet message boards continue to have their fair share of “Shuttle Bashers” – usually originating from a dislike of the huge drain on NASA’s budget, when the billions of their tax money could have been spent on other areas of the Space Agency’s mandate – the American public appear to disagree, and in large numbers.
The poll, conducted by USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup, noted that only 21 per cent of those questioned wanted to see the discontinuation of flights from Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – currently set for retirement in 2010. Nearly three quarters backed the Shuttle fleet.
The level of public interest in the Shuttle is still in question, with commentators awaiting both the level of media interest and home-based awareness for the launch of Discovery – the first launch in two and a half years. That has already been boosted by the news that over 2,500 media members have been accredited coverage rights for STS-114 – and a potential public audience of 500,000 in and around the Kennedy Space Center facility for the lift off.
However, other key points from the poll – based on a survey of 1,009 adults polled June 24-26 – were less than positive when it came to NASA itself.
20 per cent of those questions have a “great deal” of confidence that NASA can prevent future Shuttle accidents, a figure that has almost halved since the poll conducted immediately after the Columbia accident in February, 2003.
Over $4 billion of NASA’s 2005 budget has been allocated to the Return to Flight of the Shuttle fleet, a key step in President Bush’s “Vision of Space Exploration” – otherwise known as “Moon, Mars and Beyond.”
While the Shuttle gained huge support, those questioned about whether they support money being set aside to send humans to Mars polled 40 per cent in approval of the vision, while 58 per cent opposed it.
Ironically, NASA’s three Orbiters will be replaced by the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) – a ship designed to be able to transport astronauts to the Moon and Mars.