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Poll: Tracking asteroids a favored focus for space program

Quarter of Americans said moon, Mars exploration should be top priority

Asteroids images by NASA's NEAR mission. (NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –  A new poll shows Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts, scientific research and using robots to explore the cosmos over sending humans back to the moon or on to Mars.

The poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research was released Thursday, one month before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The results show asteroid and comet monitoring as the No. 1 desired objective for the U.S. space program. About two-thirds of Americans call that very or extremely important.

The poll comes as the White House pushes to get astronauts back on the moon, but only about a quarter of Americans said moon or Mars exploration by astronauts should be among the space program's highest priorities.