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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Shoot the Moon?

There is a proposal to land an astronaut on the moon again within five years.  If the motivation is to win public favor, the idea rests on a faulty premise. In most polls during the 1960s -- supposedly the height of space enthusiasm -- people did not favor spending their tax dollars on a moon shot.

Polls in the 1960s also consistently ranked spaceflight near the top of those programs to be cut in the federal budget (Fig. 4). Most Americans seemingly preferred doing something about air and water pollution, job training for unskilled workers, national beautification, and poverty before spending federal funds on human spaceflight. The following year Newsweek echoed the Times story, stating: ‘‘The US space program is in decline. The Vietnam war and the desperate conditions of the nation’s poor and its cities—which make space flight seem, in comparison,like an embarrassing national self-indulgence—have combined to drag down a program where the sky was no longer the limit.’’
Nor did lunar exploration in and of itself create much of a groundswell of popular support from the general public. The American public during the 1960s largely showed a hesitancy to ‘‘race’’ the Soviets to the Moon,as shown in Fig. 5. ‘‘Would you favor or oppose US government spending to send astronauts to the Moon?’’these polls asked, and in virtually all cases a majority opposed doing so, even during the height of  Apollo.
At only one point, October 1965, did more than half of the public favor continuing human lunar exploration. In the post-Apollo era, the American public has continued to question the validity of undertaking human expeditions to the Moon.

In a 1967 Harris poll, 54 percent said the $4 billion price tag on putting a man on the moon and exploring other planets wasn’t worth it; only a third thought it was. Fifty-seven percent in a 1965 Harris poll thought this money would be better spent on developing systems for the desalinization of water. The public in 1967 was split on the specific key goal of landing a man on the moon: 46 percent in the Harris poll opposed the project, and 43 percent supported it.