Soon after NASA shared the first stunning images taken by the agency’s new, powerful James Webb Space Telescope, a new online opinion poll asked Americans: was the nearly $10 billion observatory a good investment? And the resounding answer: yes.
Today, marketing and data analytics firm YouGov released an online poll of 1,000 Americans, asking them their overall opinion of NASA and whether or not various space programs have been good investments. Roughly 70 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of NASA, and 60 percent thought that the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, was worth it.
YouGov notes this poll was conducted between July 14th and July 18th, after NASA released the first dazzling JWST images of sparkling galaxies and nebulas on July 12th. Those images appear to have been enough to outshine some of JWST’s past drama. The telescope may be in space and operating now, but it’s been a long and harrowing journey getting to that point. Prior to its launch, JWST’s development was marked by significant delays and budget overruns. Originally, NASA and mission planners hoped to launch the telescope sometime between 2007 and 2011 for a relatively low cost of $1 to $3.5 billion. But the telescope went through a dizzying array of schedule slips and mishaps. By the time JWST finally launched on Christmas Day 2021, its total lifetime cost stood at $9.7 billion.
To be fair, the nearly $10 billion price tag for JWST is the lifetime cost for NASA, so that includes the bulk of its development since the early 2000s, as well as the first five years of its operations, according to the Planetary Society. And the Planetary Society also notes that JWST’s total costs account for 0.0095 percent of all US spending between 2003 and 2026.
Of course, most of the people polled probably weren’t thinking about the price tag when they were looking at the intricacies of the Carina Nebula that JWST captured in incredible detail. When shown the already-iconic picture, people waxed poetic. “Astonishment in the face of incredible beauty,” one person who replied to the YouGov poll said. “I was quite overwhelmed by it,” another wrote. “It’s magnificent to be able to see so much detail in such a tiny section of the universe.”
“Astonishment in the face of incredible beauty.”
And those first images are just a small teaser for what’s to come. Stunning photos and revelations are only going to keep coming the longer the telescope operates in space. And the respondents to the poll said they’re eager for more. “Some applauded NASA’s ongoing space exploration for its broader contribution to scientific knowledge and others said they look forward to seeing what else the telescope reveals,” YouGov wrote in its release.
YouGov also polled the respondents about other space investments, including the Hubble Space Telescope currently in orbit around Earth, the International Space Station, and the Space Shuttle program. All received generally favorable reviews.