Reaching for the High Frontier
The American Pro-Space Movement
by Michael A. G. Michaud
Copyright 1986 by Praeger Publishers and reproduced with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT. Read complete book here or buy from Amazon.
Gerard O'Neill's Space Studies Institute also conducted a demographic survey of its members. The results showed SSI supporters to be 87 percent male, with 84 percent with college degrees, 54.5 percent in professional employment, and 54 percent single. The age distribution by percentage was:
|30 to 45||43|
|18 to 30||37|
|45 to 65||10|
|Less than 18||6|
In 1985, the Planetary Society reported the results of a survey of its members, which showed that they were 85 percent male, that 88 percent had some college education (including 24 percent with advanced degrees), and that 64 percent were in the 26 to 49-year age bracket. The largest income bracket was between $20,000 and $30,000.
A smaller organization, the United States Space Education Association, reported that a demographic survey in early 1983 showed that the "average" USSEA member was a single white male between the ages of 21 and 30, a Protestant who had completed 3.52 years of college, and someone who was making between $11,000 and $20,000 annually in a field other than the aerospace industry.
Statistics on the geographic distribution of pro-space opinion are difficult to find. One of the most useful presentations was made by Hugh Millward in his article "Where is the Interest in Space Settlement?" published in the January 1980 L-5 News (Figure 6.2). Millward's map showing the density of L-5 Society membership in 1979 showed a strong tilt toward the West and Southwest, with pockets in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As we will see in Chapter 8, this roughly coincides with patterns in the formation of new pro-space groups (Figure 6.2).
Figure 6.2 — Density of L-5 Society Membership in the United States and Canada - 1979 (Source: Hugh Millward, "Where is the Interest in Space Settlement?" L-5 News, January 1980, pp. 8-10.)
Millward also rated the major factors influencing L-5 Society membership rates, in descending order of importance:
|December 1976||March 1979|
College students per thousand of population
|Same as in 1976|
|Per capita income||Same as in 1976|
|Presence of NASA facility or major NASA contractor||Same as in 1976|
|Percent increase in state income, 1970-76||Percent of population in metropolitan areas|
|Percent of population in metropolitan areas||Percent change in state population, 1970-76|
|Percent change in state population||Percent increase in state income, 1970-76|
What is striking here is that all the factors (except the presence of a NASA facility or contractor) have to do with general measures of wealth, education, growth, and urbanization. Interest in space seems to be correlated positively with common socioeconomic indicators of prosperity and knowledge.
The geographic pattern suggesting that pro-space sentiment is stronger in the West and Southwest appears to be at least superficially related to the distribution of NASA's contract awards. Prime contractor awards from 1979 to 1982 were distributed by region as shown in Table 6.4.
NASA Prime Contractor Awards by Region
(millions of dollars)
Source: NASA Pocket Statistics — January 1984 (Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration), p. C-2. (It should be noted that these figures are not necessarily final.)
NASA's Annual Procurement Report for Fiscal Year 1983 listed the top ten states in terms of prime contract awards (Table 6.5).
*All but Utah, Connecticut, and Colorado contain NASA centers or major NASA
Cutbacks in NASA contractor employment between 1966 and 1971 showed patterns that may be related to later interest in space activism, with the Far West suffering by far the worst blows (Table 6.6).
|Region||Fiscal 1966||June 1971||Change|
|Rocky Mountains||1,500 [sic]||5,500||-4,000|
Source: Testimony of George M. Low, Acting NASA Administrator, in 1972 NASA Authorization, Hearings before the Committee on Science and Astronautics, U.S. House of Representatives, March 2, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office), p. 76.
There is some evidence that the growth of pro-space attitudes in the United States is correlated with the "baby boom" generation (people born between 1946 and 1964), particularly its later cohorts. Space interest and space group profiles tend to be tilted toward the younger end of the population spectrum. The space group boom that began in the late 1970s (described in Chapter 8) roughly correlates with the emergence into their twenties of people born between the peak baby boom year of 1957 and the last baby boom year of 1964. Randall Clamons, then administrator of the L-5 Society, wrote that "the membership of the L-5 Society is made up of the products of the baby boom." According to him, people reaching age 25 between 1970 and 1985 accounted for 91 percent of the society's membership.
There have been other signs of increased public support for space. One measure is the size of the crowds that continue to turn out to see the launches of manned spacecraft. An estimated 600,000 people observed the Space Shuttle as it lifted off on its first mission in April 1981, and 400,000 to 450,000 drove out to Edwards Air Force Base in California to watch it return. Hundreds of thousands more came to see the Shuttle orbiter as it visited various cities on the back of its Boeing 747 carrier. These crowds were comparable to those that turned out at the height of the space race in the 1960s. The fact that there is no comparable sense of national emergency today makes this demonstration of popular interest all the more impressive. It also is striking that the Space Shuttle drew large crowds when it toured Western Europe in 1983; NASA Administrator James Beggs estimated that the total was about 5 million people. Interest in space is not just an American phenomenon.
Another measure is the popularity of the "Dial-a-Shuttle" telephone service sponsored by the National Space Institute. Under this arrangement, a caller who dials the correct number can listen in to radio conversations between Shuttle crews and ground controllers. Despite the rather vicarious nature of this experience, hundreds of thousands of calls have been placed during each Shuttle flight. According to Bonny Lee Michaelson of the National Space Institute, who coordinates this program, 861,000 calls came in during Shuttle mission STS-9 in December 1983 (the one that carried the first Spacelab). About one third of the calls were international, probably because the mission carried the first Western European to ride into space on an American spacecraft.
Another sign is attendance at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., which has become the most popular museum in the world. The museum drew 4 million visitors in the first five months after it opened in July 1976, at a time when no Americans were going into space. On May 24, 1984, the museum welcomed its 75 millionth visitor. During that calendar year, the museum had 14,438,799 visitors.
NASA continues to be deluged with applicants for its astronaut, mission specialist, and payload specialist programs. In announcing a new class of 17 astronaut candidates in May 1984, NASA reported that it had received 4,934 applications. Hughes Aircraft Company received nearly 600 applications from Hughes employees to fill two payload specialist positions available on Space Shuttle missions to fly in 1985. Clearly, the desire to go into space and to be associated with the space enterprise is widespread.
Jon Miller found that the attentive public for space exploration was more politically aware and active than the other strata he described. Furthermore, the level of contacting of public officials was significantly higher for the attentive and interested publics than for the other segments of the population. Not surprisingly, a higher proportion of attentives indicated that they perceived contacting officials to be efficacious in influencing policy. Two thirds of the attentive public, when faced with a hypothetical policy issue, indicated that they definitely or probably would participate personally in the dispute. The National Space Institute's 1984 survey showed that 86 percent had voted in the last presidential election, almost twice the national average.
Miller found that the attentive public for space exploration is not composed of a single slice of the ideological spectrum but is broadly representative of a wide range of political philosophies. However, a higher proportion of the attentive public labeled themselves "liberal." (The National Space Institute's 1984 survey showed the reverse, with the balance being slightly conservative, although less so than the public at large.)
Miller also found that the attentive public for space exploration was bipartisan, with 39 percent expressing a preference for each of the two major parties. The nonattentive public was predominantly Democratic.
The May 1981 Harris survey quoted in Table 6.1 showed that Republicans and conservatives tended to have more favorable attitudes toward the Space Shuttle than Democrats and liberals. In a survey of L-5 Society members in 1983, 31 percent identified themselves as Republicans, 25 percent as Democrats, 8 percent as Libertarians, and 33 percent as none of the above. All this suggests that, as of the early 1980s, support for space activity in the general public was not closely tied to partisan views, although Democrats were more likely to be unenthusiastic.
There is political potential in a large number of Americans who are well above average in socioeconomic status, level of information, and willingness to vote or to approach their representatives. Candidates from both major parties might find it useful to seek the support of pro-space people, not because of that characteristic but because of their socioeconomic profile and their tendency toward activism. The space theme also might be one way of attracting younger voters if pro-space attitudes are indeed more common in the baby boom generation. As of 1984, that generation constituted over 40 percent of the voting age population, and politicians seemed to be showing greater interest in the views of its members.
Some evidence suggests that pro-space opinion is particularly strong in the West and Southwest. Census results show that those areas have been growing more rapidly than other regions of the country. "Sunbelt" states will continue to gain members in the House of Representatives, and their influence on national decisions seems likely to increase. One study predicts that nearly 40 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a President in 1992 will be in three states: California, Texas, and Florida.
We also should consider the other side of this coin: the strength, or weakness, of anti-space opinion. Miller concludes that negative opinions toward the space program are rarely based on substantive information, suggesting that for segments other than the attentive public these views may be classified as "opinions" that are not deeply rooted or strongly held. Furthermore, anti-space opinion is unorganized, while pro-space attitudes are reflected in organizations that are active and numerous, even if they are not very effective in direct lobbying.
McWilliams concluded in his 1981 paper that the base of support for increasing federal allocations for space exploration is broadening rapidly. There is an implied political opportunity here for pro-space people. However, Aerospace Industries Association officials John Loosbrock and James J. Haggerty are correct in saying, "watching a launch is not a constituency." The question for pro-space activists is whether they can turn this attitudinal constituency into a political one.
- Ronald Reagan, in a speech to the graduating class at the U.S. Air Force Academy, May 30, 1984. See Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Volume 20, Number 22, June 4, 1984, pp. 782-86. Also see "Washington Roundup," Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 4, 1984, p. 15.
- The slogan was created in response to a 1984 USA Today poll that showed that 45 percent of Americans wanted to fly on the space shtutle. See note 7.
- Civilian Space Policy and Applications (Washington, D.C.: Office of Technology Assessment, 1982), p. 136.
- Robert D. McWilliams, "The Improving Socio-Political Situation of the American Space Program in the Early 1980s," in Jerry Grey and Lawrence A. Hamdan, eds., Space Manufacturing: Proceedings of the Fifth Princeton/AIAA Conference, May 18-21, 1981 (New York: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1981), pp. 251-60.
- "Poll Finds that Most Americans Support Nation's Space Program," New York Times, August 19, 1981, and "Public Majority Support Space Effort," Insight (National Space Institute), September/October 1981, p. 6. See also Civilian Space Policy and Applications, p. 141.
- See "Poll Indicates Growing Public Support for Space," Insight, July/August 1981, p. 3. Louis Harris, The Harris Survey (Orlando, Fla.: Tribune Media Services, June 1, 1981). Reprinted with permission. See also "Poll Finds 63% of Surveyed Back Full Spending on Shuttle," Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 15, 1981, p. 33, and Civilian Space Policy and Applications, p. 141.
- "45% of Us Would Be Astronauts," USA Today, April 19, 1984.
- Jon D. Miller, "The Information Needs of the Public Concerning Space Exploration: A Special Report for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration," Public Opinion Laboratory, Northern Illinois University, July 20, 1982.
- National Space Institute News Release, March 2, 1984.
- McWilliams, "Improving Socio-Political Situation," p. 252.
- Ibid., p. 254.
- Ibid., p. 255.
- Ibid., p. 253.
- Ibid., p. 254.
- Interview with Johan Benson, October 24, 1983. Trudy E. Bell made a similar observation in her unpublished 1982 paper "From Little Acorns...: American Space Interest Groups, 1980-1982."
- Civilian Space Policy and Applications, pp. 138-39.
- Miller, "Information Needs of Public," pp. 16-18.
- McWilliams, "Improving Socio-Political Situation," p. 257.
- Ibid., p. 256.
- Ibid., p. 258.
- Ibid., p. 259.
- Brochure entitled "National Space Institute," dated October 1983.
- "Report from the Executive Director," Insight, May 1985, pp. 2a-3a.
- "Preliminary Results from Most Recent Survey," unpublished document kindly provided by Randall Clamons.
- "Demographic Survey Results," SSI Update, Second Quarter 1983, p. 6.
- "You Tell Us - The Planetary Society Members' Survey," The Planetary Report, May/June 1985, p. 13.
- Tenth Anniversary Press Kit, United States Space Education Association, July 11, 1983.
- It should be noted that these are not necessarily final figures.
- Testimony of George M. Low, Acting NASA Administrator, 1972 NASA Authorization, Hearings before the Committee on Science and Astronautics, U.S. House of Representatives, March 2, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), p. 76.
- Undated document kindly supplied by Randall Clamons.
- "Crowds Gather to View Launch, Landing," Aviation Week and Space Technology, April 20, 1981, p. 26.
- Speech by James Beggs at Georgetown University seminar on education for international cooperation in science and technology, January 29, 1985.
- "840,000 Dialed Columbia's Phone," Washington Post, December 10, 1983, and conversation with Bonny Lee Michelson, January 27, 1984. The National Space Institute puts out a press release each time this service is available.
- "Air and Space Museum: Four Million in Five Months," Astronautics and Aeronautics, January 1977, p. 16.
- "News Digest," Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 4, 1984, p. 27.
- "From Pate to Hot Dogs, Tourism Rises," New York Times, July 28, 1985.
- "NASA Names 17 Astronaut Candidates," Aviation Week and Space Technology, May 28, 1984, p. 29.
- "Industry Observer," Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 4, 1984.
- Miller, "Information Needs of Public," pp. 53-54.
- Ibid., p. 54.
- Ibid., pp. 54-56.
- "Preliminary Results from Most Recent Survey."
- See, for example, "Here Come the Baby Boomers," U.S. News and World Report, November 5, 1984, pp. 68-73; "A Party in Search of Itself," Time, July 16, 1984, pp. 12-20; "Tomorrow," U.S. News and World Report, May 21, 1984, pp. 1920.
- See "Texas, Florida Areas Burgeoning," Washington Post, June 5, 1985.
- "Tomorrow," U.S. News and World Report, June 24, 1985, p. 16.
- Miller, "Information Needs of Public," pp. 27, 77.
- McWilliams, "Improving Socio-Political Situation," p. 259.
- Interview with John Loosbrock and James J. Haggerty.