By Loretta Hall
It’s beginning to feel like round two of the space race. The Moon is still the primary objective, but now several nations and private organizations are working toward human exploration and settlement missions. Playing a prominent role in attaining that objective is essential for international prestige and national security. NSS Space Ambassadors can make a difference in generating public support for crewed space programs.
China has announced its intention to establish a human-occupied lunar research base, with its first astronauts stepping on lunar soil in the late 2020s. Russia is developing an alternative program to its potential participation in NASA’s planned lunar-orbit space station project, and it expects cosmonauts to land on the Moon in 2031. Neither of those countries relies on public support like the United States does.
NASA aims to land astronauts on the Moon by 2028. Congress recently authorized funding for that objective, but whether that financial commitment will endure for the next decade is uncertain. Public enthusiasm for that support will be necessary, but how likely is it?
A Pew Research Center report released June 6, 2018, found that 72 percent of Americans believe it is essential for the United States to be a world leader in space exploration. That’s the good news. The bad news is that only 13 percent believed sending humans to the Moon should be a top priority. Only 42 percent believed such a program should be important, even at a lower priority.
The study also found that only 7 percent of Americans are “particularly attentive” to space news, although the majority (71 percent) have heard at least a little about NASA or private space enterprises in the past year. That’s not good enough.
Being informed makes a difference. Of the well-informed group, 88 percent believe it’s essential for America to be a world leader in space exploration. Only 60 percent the least informed believe that.
Getting public support for human space missions requires education. That’s where NSS Space Ambassadors come in. Speaking to many kinds of audiences about the importance, practicality, and value of these programs can change opinions. I have spoken to groups including a women’s garden club, a historical society, a newcomers’ club, an international cultural exchange group, and retired educators. These people are not particularly attentive to space news, but they have all been fascinated with what they learned, perhaps to their own surprise.
India is building a robust space program, with its first crewed mission planned for 2022. Two of the current NSS Certified Space Ambassadors are actively promoting their country’s space programs.
The European Space Agency is actively pursuing space exploration and may be one our valued partners. A Harris Interactive poll in December 2018 found that only 4 out of 10 Europeans felt well informed about their region’s space activities. We need NSS Space Ambassadors in Europe too.
Speaking about space exploration and settlement is personally enjoyable and rewarding. It also builds public support for America’s continuing leadership role. China and Russia will occupy the Moon with or without American involvement. We must be there too. Apply now to become a Space Ambassador.