Stephen C. Smith writes about public support, or lack thereof, for NASA and its projects as seen in polls as far back as the early 1960s: Poll Position – Space KSC.
A July 2011 CNN/ORC International Poll conducted at the end of the Space Shuttle program asked, “In general, do you think the US (United States) should rely more on the government or more on private companies to run the country’s manned space missions in the future?”
54% chose private companies, 38% chose government, 4% chose both equally, 2% said neither, and 2% had no opinion.
At a time one might assume the public was feeling nostalgic, if not outright mourning, for the end of the Space Shuttle program, a majority wanted space turned over to the private sector.
Asking the taxpayer to support a government space program is a different question from asking Americans if they support the overall notion of space exploration. The key difference is who pays for it.