Four in 10 Americans are up for a ride in space – but the ticket price will have to come down by just a bit. Like, say, about $198,000.
Whatever the cost, most expect it to happen: Sixty-five percent in this ABC News/Good Morning America survey think that in the years ahead ordinary people will travel in outer space. And 39 percent say that if they themselves had the chance, they'd go for it.
But that's where price sensitivity comes in. There's a huge range in how much money people would be willing to pay for a ride into space and back. Twenty-one percent cite a figure under $500, including 7 percent who'd only go for free. At the other end of the spectrum, 4 percent say they'd shell out $1 million or more for the thrill of a blastoff.
The median answer comes in at just $2,000 – a far cry from the $200,000 ticket price backers of the prospective spaceliner called Virgin Galactic are asking right now. They say the ship could start taking paying passengers to the edge of space in 2009 or 2010.
Then again, this is probably not a mass-market business.
Interest in participating in space flight is in fact down from its peak. In polls back to 1981, as many as 47 percent of Americans (in 1998) have said they'd like to travel in space; interest was about as high, at 46 percent, in 1982. Indeed today's 39 percent matches the low in 26 years of polling. Lingering memories of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, in 1986 and 2003, may contribute to some of the compunctions.
GROUPS – Interest in traveling in space differs sharply among groups. Fifty-four percent of men would like a ride; three-quarters of women, by contrast, would rather stay right here on Earth. Interest peaks among under-35s; 56 percent would take the trip, compared with just two in 10 people age 55 or older. And – perhaps anticipating the ticket price – better-off Americans are more apt to say they'd like to rocket off into the yonder.
Traveling to space is different from taking up residence there, and this poll does not find broad interest in a push by NASA to colonize space. Fifty-eight percent oppose having the space agency work on ways to establish permanent settlements where large numbers of people could live in outer space or on other planets. And among those who do support the idea, barely two in 10 say it should be given a high priority.
ALLURE – Clearly part of the allure of space is the thought of intelligent life out there. Most Americans believe it does exist – although how intelligent is another matter. While 55 percent think some form of intelligent life exists in outer space, fewer – 40 percent – think there's life up there that's more intelligent than humans.
There are differences among groups in these views as well. Westerners are notably more apt than people in other regions to believe there's intelligent life in outer space; so are younger and better-educated adults. Seniors are especially skeptical.
People who believe there's intelligent life in outer space are better attuned to space exploration, both personally and by NASA. Forty-nine percent in this group would like to travel in outer space; by contrast, among those who don't think there's intelligent life in space, far fewer, 28 percent, yearn for a trip there.
Similarly, among people who believe there's intelligent life in outer space, 50 percent say NASA should try to establish permanent settlements in space. Among people who doubt that such life exists, just 23 percent support a space-settlement program.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 25-29, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,019 adults. The results have a 3-point error margin. Field work by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.