updated 7/19/2004 11:06:42 PM ET 2004-07-20T03:06:42

NASA's renewed commitment to human space exploration has a strong support base amongst the American public, according to a new poll released today.

More than two-thirds of those polled supported a stepping stone approach for NASA's space efforts, starting with resumed space shuttle flights and the completion of the International Space Station (ISS), and leading to eventual manned missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

The results show a marked increase from an earlier poll released by the Associated Press in January which found that only 48 percent of Americans supported the human exploration space vision announced President George W. Bush on Jan. 14. That poll also showed support for Bush's space plan split down political party lines.

In the new survey, however, support for NASA's approach to the vision appeared to be bipartisan, with 79 percent of Republicans and 60 percent from Democrats supporting the agency's space exploration plan.

The Coalition for Space Exploration funded the new poll, which was conducted by the Gallup Organization, of Princeton, New Jersey, and coordinated by the Space Foundation. Results were based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 or older, between June 22 and July 7.

"We've long held that space exploration is not a partisan activity," explained Jeff Carr, spokesman for the United Space Alliance, which is a founding member of the Coalition for Space Exploration. "And we don't see any signs of that changing."

Other results
The new poll also showed that seven out of ten Americans believe the benefits of human space exploration are worth the potential risks to the lives of astronauts.

"The results show what those of us who have been involved in space all these years have always believed," said Jim Banke, spokesman for the Space Foundation, during a telephone interview. "That there is widespread support for space exploration across the nation."

Despite the overwhelming support for NASA's space exploration goals, the majority of Americans did not support any significant increase in national spending for the agency.

About 63 percent of those polled believed that NASA's annual budget should stay at its current level or be only slightly increased from its current amount of less than 1 percent of the federal budget -- or about $55 per year for the average taxpayer.

"We didn't ask whether you should spend money on space or welfare," Banke explained, adding that the poll specifically laid out NASA's budget requirements as it related to individual taxpayers. "It's about the price of a cheeseburger, $1.06 per week."

NASA officials have repeatedly stressed the importance of capturing the hearts and minds of today's youth to forge a new generation of explorers, but only one in 10 Americans believe space exploration is important because it motivates and inspires children, the poll reported. About 29 percent of Americans said the space effort is key because it is human nature to explore, while one in five believed the country needed to explore space to remain an international leader.

"What we're seeing right now is that people believe our space program goes a long way to identifying who we are in the world," Carr said.

Gallup officials said that, based on their national sample size, one can be 95 percent confident that any error in the poll cold be plus or minus 3 percentage points. Sampling error, question wording and the practical difficulties in conducting the surveys can also introduce error or bias in opinion poll findings, they added.

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