NASA has a PR problem (with an upside!)

Space exploration advocacy group Explore Mars has just released excerpts from a recently-conducted poll sponsored with Boeing.  The results show that the American public has high expectations for the continued exploration of Mars.  Fully 71 percent of respondents anticipate that humans will be on Mars in the next twenty years - a prospect that's looking more remote with every budget constriction.  This budget, however, might have some room to grow.

Curiosity is but one of the NASA programs that have captured the public's imagination.  (image credit: NASA)

When asked to estimate NASA's budget, at least 95 percent of respondents named a value that was too large.  On average, Americans appear to believe that about 2.4% of US spending is devoted to the space agency.  That's nearly five times higher than the true value of about half a percent.  Clearly, the public impression of space exploration is that it's a costly endeavor.  All that high-tech equipment looks more expensive than it really is.  While I'm sure this is discouraging for NASA, there is good news here, too.

Once informed of NASA's true budget, 75 percent of those polled either supported or strongly supported an increase in the agency's budget.  Taken in combination with respondents' previous estimations, this seems to indicate broad public support for a space program than does more.  With a public already entranced with the exploration done on a (unexpectedly) shoestring budget, NASA could tout its perceived efficiency in a play for more funding.

This is a tack already taken by science advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson.  He has called for a doubling of the NASA budget (to one percent) with his "Penny for NASA" campaign.  With some advocacy from the organization itself, this seems like an achievable goal given the public perception.  Of course, when it comes down to brass tacks, surely fewer citizens will actually be willing to accept a smaller paycheck for increased space exploration.  No to mention, budget increases anywhere will be a tough sell to this Congress.  Regardless, it must be nice for NASA to know that it has some room to grow in the future.

The Explore Mars Poll was conducted 4 Feb - 6 Feb 2013 and consisted of 1,101 email respondents from across the United States.  It has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

Source: Explore Mars