Fifty-one percent of those surveyed back the journey to Mars. Forty-three percent opposed it. In 2004, 48 percent said the U.S. should send astronauts to Mars, while in 1999 that figure was 58 percent.
As the country marks the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, meanwhile, there is widespread agreement that landing men on the moon was worthwhile. Seventy-one percent said it was worth the time, effort and money that went into the endeavor, while 24 percent said it was not.
Yet many Americans say the space program has fallen short of their expectations. Thirty-two percent say the space program has accomplished less than they expected, while 27 percent say it has exceeded their expectations. Thirty-six percent say the program has accomplished about what they expected.
The U.S. has sent spacecraft such as rovers to Mars, but humans have yet to set foot there. Men (62 percent) are far more likely than women (42 percent) to favor sending astronauts to the planet.
In addition, Americans under age 45, who were less likely to have watched the moon landing on television in 1969, favor exploring Mars. Older Americans are opposed to the idea.
NASA on Thursday unveiled refurbished video of the 1969 moon landing, in conjunction with its 40th anniversary. On Wednesday, space shuttle Endeavour launched on a flight to the international space station. NASA plans to retire the shuttle fleet after seven more launches.
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Complete Coverage: 40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 944 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone July 9-12, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.