More than two-thirds of Americans believe human beings will step on the surface of Mars by the year 2033, according to a survey published today by a non-profit group "committed to advancing the cause for human exploration of Mars." The survey acknowledged the first question anyone has about human missions to the Red Planet: how, precisely, are we going to pay for it? To address that concern, 75 percent of Americans endorsed allocating 1 percent of the federal budget to NASA. This is not as big as it might sound: NASA currently draws a little less than half of a percent of the budget, but accounted for 4.41 percent of the budget in 1966 when Surveyor 1 landed on the Earth's moon.
There's a reason the survey is so forward-looking, however: the Obama administration's 2012 budget slashed funding for Martian exploration by a fifth, to $1.2 billion per annum, and further trimmed NASA's budget to its lowest percent of the federal budget since the early 1960's, when NASA was founded. According to the survey published today, about the same number of people who wish to allocate more for NASA — 73 percent — think that affordability will prove the biggest impediment to future exploration of Mars. That said, the survey offered a modicum of hope that we'll place humans on Mars within our lifetime: a "majority of Americans" didn't think "technological capabilities and motivation" would stop us from finally visiting our closest planetary neighbor.