In a survey conducted just before the final space shuttle flight in July 2011, nearly six-in-ten (58%) said it was essential that the United States continue to be a world leader in space exploration; about four-in-ten said this is not essential (38%). Looking back on the shuttle program, a majority (55%) said it had been a good investment for the country. However, this is lower than it was in the 1980s; throughout the early years of the shuttle program, six-in-ten or more said the program was a good investment. More Republicans (67%) were supportive of the importance of U.S. leadership in space than Democrats (54%). A 57%-majority of independents considered U.S. leadership to be essential. And while about six-in-ten Republicans (63%) and independents (60%) said the program has been a good investment, Democrats were more muted in their appraisals (48% good investment). Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.