WASHINGTON -- President Bush's plan to build a space station on the moon and eventually send astronauts to Mars hasn't grabbed the public's imagination, an Associated Press poll indicates.
More than half in the poll said it would be better to spend the money on domestic programs rather than on space research.
Asked whether they favored the United States expanding the space program the way Bush proposes, those polled were evenly split, with 48 percent favoring the idea and the same number opposing it, according to the poll conducted for the wire service by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
Most respondents said they generally support continuing to send humans into space. Given the choice of spending money on programs such as education and health care or on space research, however, 55 percent said they preferred domestic programs.
Based on previous estimates for a moon-Mars initiative, the cost would run in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
"You can't have a war, cut taxes, have the economy in a garbage pail, and spend billions going into space," said Dallas Hodgins, 76,of Flint, Mich., a retired University of Michigan researcher. "How are they going to pay for all this? I don't see how it's morally justifiable. In Flint, there isn't a school roof that doesn't leak."
Bush is scheduled tomorrow to spell out the details of his proposal to use an outpost on the moon as a starting point for more remote destinations such as Mars or asteroids.
Those most likely to favor the plan to expand space exploration were men, young adults, people with more education, and those with higher incomes.
It made a difference who was said to be behind the plan. When half of those polled were asked about a "Bush administration" plan to expand space exploration instead of the "United States" plan, opposition increased.
Some have suggested that space exploration could be expanded more inexpensively using robots instead of human astronauts to explore the moon or other planets.
The AP-Ipsos poll indicated that option was popular, with 57 percent favoring exploring the moon and Mars with robots and 38 percent saying humans.
Despite the mixed response about the moon-Mars proposal, general support for space exploration remains strong.
Even after people were reminded of the shuttle explosion that killed seven astronauts last February, three-fourths said the United States should continue to send humans into space.
Three-fourths of those polled said they believed it was important for the United States to be the leading country in the world in space exploration.
Only 29 percent of those polled, however, said it was "very important."
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was taken Friday through Sunday and had a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.