The public responded loud and strong when we asked them what they want to see next in planetary exploration," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "Even more important than what they said is how many said it -- over 50,000 responses in just two short weeks. This type of public interest should weigh heavily in Congress' consideration of the President's proposed NASA budget which is being made public today."
The huge public response was perhaps one of the most important results from the Decadal Survey questionnaire about setting priorities for U.S. planetary research programs. At NASA's request, the National Research Council (NRC) is conducting a planetary science community assessment of what these priorities should be for the next 10 years. The NRC appointed steering committee asked The Planetary Society, the world's largest space-interest group, to poll the public for their views about planetary exploration.
The results of that public poll are especially interesting to The Planetary Society since the new NASA budget -- the first developed by the Bush Administration, with major direction from its new NASA Administrator, Sean O'Keefe -- is being released today.
In the two weeks that the questionnaire was posted on the Society's website, over 50,000 people weighed in with their opinions. For many of the questions, those opinions vary widely, but a few definite favorites did emerge.
"More than 90% of survey respondents ranked exploration of Mars among the top five mission priorities for NASA, thus outpacing all other Solar System mission categories" said Bruce Betts, Director of Projects at The Planetary Society.
The rest of the top five favorite exploration destinations and the percentage of respondents who ranked them in the top five were: our own moon (65%), Jupiter's moon Europa (62%), Pluto and the Kuiper Belt (37%), and Io (34%).
Opinions were fairly evenly divided, however, on prioritizing the ultimate purpose of US planetary exploration, and choosing whether it is preferable to mount missions to new bodies not previously visited by spacecraft or to send missions to explore previously visited objects in greater detail.
The final two questions of the survey asked how the public in general, and educators in particular, preferred to learn about the results of exploration missions. Not surprisingly for a web survey, respondents were eager to receive the latest information via the Internet, as well as through more traditional media, such as newspapers and television.
To see the complete survey results, visit the Planetary Society's website.