With space shuttle Atlantis touching down Thursday, a chapter of space exploration ended -- and a new poll finds that Americans are not at all happy about it.
A poll released by CNN /Opinion Research found that 50 percent of those surveyed believe that the federal government pulling the plug on the space shuttle program is bad for the nation. Only 16 percent of those surveyed think that ending the program, which has been based in Florida and exploring space for 30 years, is good for America. A third of Americans -- 33 percent -- think that ending the space shuttle program will have no impact on the country.
The poll also finds that Americans have more faith in the private sector to continue space exploration than they do in NASA. More than half of those surveyed -- 54 percent -- think that private companies would take the lead on continued exploration while 38 percent think the federal government should continue as the primary conduit on space matters.
According to the poll, Americans remain convinced of the value of space discovery and stay optimistic about its future. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed believe that Americans will be able to establish a replacement vessel that could send astronauts into space and back -- and 75 percent of Americans believe this should be done. Only 23 percent oppose the idea.
A plurality of those surveyed -- 38 percent -- believe it is very important for the U.S. to remain ahead of other nations in space exploration while 26 percent think it is fairly important. Some 36 percent responded that it is not important for America to continue leading the space race.
The poll of 1,009 American adults was taken between July 18-20, and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
President Barack Obama called the crew of the last shuttle flight last week, conveying that they have done important work and that future space missions will focus on Mars.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who flew on Columbia as a congressman back in 1986, watched the landing Thursday from his townhouse in Virginia, then released a statement.
The space shuttle has been an incredible flying machine [that] has allowed us to do unbelievable things, said Nelson, who had honored NASA engineers and technicians last week.
With Atlantis back on Earth, Florida Republican Congresswoman Sandy Adams, who represents part of the Space Coast, offered some reflections on the space shuttle program Thursday morning.
It is with great sadness and pride that I watched space shuttle Atlantis land today, marking the end of an era that has so greatly defined Floridas Space Coast for 30 years, she said. Since the very first launch of space shuttle Columbia to todays final mission, the Space Coast and the hard-working men and women of Florida have been there all along, making history. Children along the Space Coast have grown up watching shuttle launches from their porches and beachfronts with a sense of pride and awe.
"NASAs 30-year space shuttle program has been more than just space exploration to Florida families; its part of their history, its their livelihoods, and its been a source of inspiration for the tens of thousands of people who have supported its operations and have made their homes in our great state.
Adams also turned her eyes to the future of space travel.
As we close the door to this chapter in Florida and in the nations history, we must look forward to the future of our Space Coast and the future of space exploration, added Adams.I was elated when NASA selected Floridas Center for the Advancement of Science in Space Inc. to develop and manage the non-NASA scientific research on the U.S. portion of the International Space Station.This $15 million annual investment will help create much-needed jobs here on the Space Coast. I am hopeful that, as we move forward as a nation, Congress and this administration will continue to properly prioritize NASA funding and find ways to utilize the existing infrastructure, the skill set, and a work force who have played such a vital role in defining America as the leader in space exploration.
Moving forward, we must not lose sight of Americas contributions to space, and we must continue fighting to keep our great nation the leader in space exploration, said Adams in conclusion. I welcome home Atlantis and I am so proud of the hard-working men and women in Florida who have helped define our shuttle program as an American flagship and a symbol of strength for the country we love.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.