Christopher Nolan's highly-anticipated new movie "Interstellar" hits theaters Friday with hopes of being this generation's answer to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey." (Not everyone agrees: "Interstellar" only has a score of 73 on Rotten Tomatoes.) Nonetheless, the film is likely to spark imaginative discussions about space and how far we'll travel as a civilization.
The latest data points aren't good on that matter, though. There's not only last week's deadly crash by Virgin Galactic, which hoped to launch widespread space tourism, or the unexpected explosion of a rocket headed toward the International Space Station. The United States also retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011. And, as you can see in the chart below, we now spend less on NASA -- relative to the wealth of overall economy -- than at any point in history.
Although exploring space has been an iconic part of the American imagination for decades, it's never registered high on the list of the public's priorities. Dating back to the 1970s, Americans have consistently said we're spending too much on space. Equally interestingly, though, Americans seem to be aware of how much less we're spending today. As recently as 2012, polling showed that more Americans than ever before thought that we were spending too little.