Why space needs a popular revolution

Why space needs a popular revolution

by: Dominique M. Awis

13 November 2016

Dr. Alan Steinberg (2011) performed one of the most important studies in the small yet interesting canon of the quantitative space political sciences by finding the crucial relationship between public opinion and NASA spending: a negative relationship was found suggesting as spaceflight gains popularity and support, NASA’s budget will actually decrease.

Upon repeating this analysis using a wider range of days yet the same metric of measurements, this correlation stays the same: negative.  Since the budget hasn’t increased all that much since the 1970s (Graph 1), popular support may appear to actually be working against a NASA budget increase (Graph 2).

[Graph 1] and [Graph 2]

The relationship shows that while public opinion of spaceflight is overall popular with the public, positive popularity really isn’t helping space’s cause.  There might be many reasons for this but one is mainly that public opinion of space, despite being popular, doesn’t have an effect on space flight spending at all.

Space as a popular issue with the public doesn’t mean that much in Washington

This is likely because space policy isn’t all that popular in DC (demand for it by states) and that overall while the public is on board with spaceflight spending, they lack the motivation to push government for it.  One thing is certain: our remedy that increasing popular support for spaceflight incrementally is going to dramatically increase NASA spending is not working.  Incremental efforts don’t yield dramatic results; dramatic efforts could however.  Wonks typically have one remedy for getting a popular issue on the government or commercial table for a budget increase: popular crisis.  

Space needs a popular revolution.

Space needs a crisis and fast.  A good crisis; the kind of crisis you rally behind to promote an idea that will fix actually everyday problems.  A popular crisis.  A revolution in fact.  Space wonks need to get the word out that investing money and effort into space now is going to fix popular problems.  What popular problems can space fix?  Space can “fix” all sorts of “problems” ranging from national prestige and defense, to economic and scientific problems, even more modern rationales for space spending such as humanitarianism, sustainability, and species survival, but these “fixes” don’t address popular “problems.”  We don’t quite have a problem of species survival despite Elon Musk’s futuristic concerns.  So how can we make space a solution to a popular problem?

Everyone can use a little escape especially given the current economic and political climate.

Escape isn’t a tough sell given the economic difficulties and borderline toxic political discourse and “selling space” isn’t hard given space is a free and unlimited resource.  

Space …..

Good luck everyone!!

Citation: Steinberg (2011) Space Policy Responsiveness: the relationship between public opinion and NASA funding. Space Policy Journal.


Crucial thanks to Dr. Matthew Nowlin from College of Charleston whom I’ve learned a great deal about policy process models and budgets under the advisement as a research assistant June-November 2015.  I would also like to thank Dr. Jordan Ragusa also from the College whom I’ve learned a great deal about public opinion research while his research assistant June-July 2016.


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