Quantifying Public Support

We quite often have someone suggest that some program or destination should be pursued because it has public support. Or that some project should be started to increase public support. My questions are, “what is public support exactly?” and “how does it affect the goals I think important?”

There are varying levels of public support, most of which have very little to do with accomplishing anything important in space. One level is someone choosing to watch something space related on television instead of another Friends rerun. I fail to see how this level of support generates much in the way of useful work. How many of these does it take to equal the effect of one Musk?, millions?, thousands?, tens of millions?…I would suggest x10^8 or so. How many to equal a Goff, Greason, or Carmack? IMO, the spectator public has very little to do with progress in spaceflight except occasionally voting against shutting down some jobs program, and might even be considered a negative in some of those cases.

Perhaps a level up from the couch potato in public support is the talkers like me and some of the ones I argue or discuss things with from time to time. Some of the talkers are doers, but it is hard to tell which ones unless paying real attention.  Realization of x10^7 of us to equal the effect of one of the real players is a bit humbling to us near spectators. For most of us at this level, $ome lack of ability is usually involved, even if it could be worked around with more motivation. However, moral support is often neither.

In my opinion, public support is often vastly over rated. The public support for SLS/Orion is still likely ahead of that for Falcon9Heavy, and even further ahead of Vulcan, New Glenn, or any of our other favorite launchers or launchers to be. Public support though, doesn’t seem to have much effect on launcher manufacture or dropped LOX domes.

Before Falcon 9, and especially before Falcon 1, public support for SpaceX was close enough to zero to be lost in the noise. Before New Shepard, how much for Blue Origin? How much does public support affect ULA unless there are jobs or votes involved?

I’m good with somebody proving me wrong. I would like to think my effect is more than 1/x10^7 of a real player. I am not good though with more people just asserting that the spectators/public are super important for some reason.

To me, the public support that counts is when a customer plunks their money down. Whether it is a satellite launch or a hamburger, paying customers are the ultimate measure of useful public support.

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I do construction for a living and aerospace as an occasional hobby. I am an inventor and a bit of an entrepreneur. I've been self employed since the 1980s and working in concrete since the 1970s. When I grow up, I want to work with rockets and spacecraft. I did a stupid rocket trick a few decades back and decided not to try another hot fire without adult supervision. Haven't located much of that as we are all big kids when working with our passions.

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12 Responses to Quantifying Public Support

  1. Paul D. says:

    I define it as follows: a voter’s support for X is proportional to the probability that a candidate’s stance on X will decide that voter’s vote for that candidate.

  2. john hare says:

    The question being, how does that vote actually impact real progress in spaceflight? Given that the vast majority have far more voting issues on their minds than space, it seems that a vote for a candidate is unlikely to be swayed by space related issues very often, and even when it is, it may be a jobs program with little effect on actual spaceflight.

  3. DougSpace says:

    Several things. The strategy of Mars One was to convert the couch potato public interest into a money-paying customer in the form of advertisers. So the possibility of something like this should be considered.

    Along those lines, consider how many and how much certain people might pay in order to be ‘virtually present’ by VR when the first woman sets foot on the Moon or first dog or first person on Mars. 1% of the world paying $15 for the experience = over $1B.

    Consider Moon rock jewelry. 10 tonnes returned @ 1/5 gram per piece of Moon @ $20 piece of Moon = $1 B.

    Also, politicians want to do something that would make themselves popular. A successful, if even transitory space achievement might do that. So it is the perception of future, brief public support that might change the politician’s policy today.

    So, it is a good question, very hard to get a hold on, some creativity might find a way of monetizing interest, etc.

  4. Paul451 says:

    Even when a voter considers themselves “pro-space”, enough that an outspoken “pro-space” Congresscritter would get their vote over a blandishment speaker, it doesn’t mean that voter is “useful” to the rest of us. The loudest speaking “pro-space” Senators and Congressmen are generally in the pocket of the defence industry primary contractors. Hence their support is for

    More generally, I read a comment yesterday on the same general topic (a commenter saying how important it was to get public support, if only we had more public support, etc) that support for NASA and HSF in the US is “a mile wide and an inch deep”. But an inch is probably overstating it.

    “Perhaps a level up from the couch potato in public support is the talkers like me and some of the ones I argue or discuss things with from time to time. Some of the talkers are doers “

    I’m currently wading through the seemingly endless online story “Worm” (teenage superheroes, not as bad as it sounds). Something about John’s phrasing intersected with the way they classify superpowers: Thinker, Tinkers, Mover, Master, Stranger… A “cape” might be a “Thinker 4, Mover 9” or a “Brute 3, Stranger 5”. Etc.

    So perhaps we should picture classifications in aerospace and space-advocacy in the same way: Worker, Funder, Leader, Speaker, Reader.

    You can be a high level Speaker with a large audience (like NdT) but have fairly small influence on policy, thus a low Leader rating. Whereas a Boeing lobbyist would have a higher Leader rating, due to their access to certain Senators, while being virtually anonymous as a Speaker. Musk is a Worker/Funder/Leader/Speaker/Reader of high ratings. A space-state Senator is a Funder/Speaker, but a medium/low level Leader (since they don’t create policy, they just pass on the interests of their major donors), and usually a very low level Reader.

    John and I are primarily Readers, plus low level Speakers. With John being slightly higher as a Speaker because he writes articles while I write comments. Jon, otoh, is a lowish level Speaker (compared to a public figure like NdT or Musk, or a space-state politician), but he’s a high level Worker, which has spilled over into some Leader/Funder ratings as a founder of an aerospace contractor.

    IMO, most space advocacy groups are only medium level Speakers, but much lower level Leaders than they think. (The novels of RAH and the TV show Star Trek were higher level Leaders and much higher level Speakers than any space advocacy group.)

    Not sure if I have a destination, the trip amused me, though.

  5. Paul451 says:

    I said:

    “Even when a voter considers themselves “pro-space”, enough that an outspoken “pro-space” Congresscritter would get their vote over a blandishment speaker, it doesn’t mean that voter is “useful” to the rest of us. The loudest speaking “pro-space” Senators and Congressmen are generally in the pocket of the defence industry primary contractors. Hence their support is for”

    Oops. Try again. “Hence the support of those politicians is for thinks like SLS/Orion which reward their donors and preserve the stalled status-quo, rather than supporting necessary change that would actually advance HSF and aerospace development.” Or to use my latter concept, most “pro-space” voters are very low ranked Readers, and therefore even their collective Leader rankings (as massed voters) ends up being misplaced.

  6. Paul451 says:


    “things” not “thinks”.

  7. arthur pollard says:

    I represent 1/ 10^9 of the Global Clothing Market.
    Statistically, that is even more depressing than being 1/ 10^8 of a Musk.

    Yet if everyone viewed the statistics and decided to leave the Global Clothing Market to Christian Dior, mankind would still be naked or wearing animal skin loincloths.

    The danger is if everyone gives up on public support, then little to nothing beyond satellite launches will even be attempted. Imagine the hill to climb if Musk were starting from no Apollo and no STS and no commercial Atlas/Delta and no ISS because there was no perceived public interest or support in such things.

    How has the effort to revive Airships gone?
    There are technical merits but no perceived public support.

    Just the random thoughts of 1/ 7×10^9 of the world … nobody in the grand scheme of things.

  8. john hare says:

    Perhaps you are forgetting that you are a clothing participant and spend your own money. That makes you a player instead of spectator. There’s a major difference between being a player that makes a small difference, and a spectator that does nothing useful.

  9. arthur pollard says:

    I spend $400 per year on clothes and $1200 per year for the ‘TV’ sattelite dish on the side of my house. I am economically, far more invested in space than in clothing. [LOL]

  10. mike shupp says:

    Uhhh … It’s true that a couch potato watching a sci-fi film on his TV or even a PBS science show dealing with asteroids or the hurtling moons of Barsoom isn’t doing as much for spaceflight as say Elon Musk. But there a lot of couch potatoes who sort of weakly support space programs and pay taxes which eventually lead to more spacecraft headed off to Mars and Jupiter and the Oort Cloud on rockets built by Elon Musk and greater and more spectacular PBS specials and IMAX movies ….

    It’s kind of a self-supporting system, I’m trying to say. Elon Musk (and his supporters) might have great dreams, but if it’s a just a hobby for a few eccentrics, like Robert Goddard and other astronautical visionaries in the 1920’s and 1930’s, progress is going to be slow. You need broad support and understanding of some kind, even if it’s not very profound.

    Let me use an analogy. Perhaps we want the USA to be “a Christian nation.” Or a Judeo-Christian nation, or at least a religious nation. We’ve got 300 million people in this country, and they obviously aren’t all going to be priests and rabbis, they aren’t going to cast out demons and have enough faith to walk on water. It might even be asking for a lot to expect many of them to follow the logical argument in a pastor’s sermon. Still … we’ve got some idea of how communities of Christians ought to live and get along with each other, we’ve got some notion of the concepts — God the Creator, Judgment Day, Heaven and Hell, the Bible as a sacred text, witnessing one’s faith, etc. — that shape their principles and behavior. We can talk about building a Christian Nation here in America, or in improving what we’ve got, even if we’re not creating a nation filled with theologians and martyrs.

    So yeah, it’d be a good thing too to build a Spaceflight Nation.

  11. Any Mouse says:

    If you have the time and inclination, a recently-published book, “The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War” does a solid job of looking at the history of public, private, and government support in America for space-related stuff over the last couple centuries.


    I haven’t finished reading it yet, but it’s certainly added a lot of depth and color to my thoughts about public support for space.

  12. I’d guess that investors pay a fair amount of attention to the amount of popular interest there is in a particular industry/activity. So even if 1E8 excited unwashed masses = 1 Musk, it’s quite possible that 1E5 excited unwashed masses = 1 willing investor. That’s worth quite a bit to the industry.

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