This is one of those "in my humbled opinion posts".
I really do think that the current state of NASA's prioritization is seriously jacked. You can read the article that spawned this chain of thought here.....'Scientists Warn of Diminished Earth Studies From Space'.
Here's a particularly incendiary excerpt...
“NASA has a mission ordering that starts with the presidential goals — first of manned flight to Mars, and second, establishing a permanent base on the Moon, and then third to examine Earth, which puts Earth rather far down on the totem pole.”
Again, I must stress that this is NOT a "the-president-is-evil" speech. These are simply my thoughts on current events.
Having spent a couple years working with NASA on Earth-observing missions, I can honestly say that the average person doesn't give the field its due. NASA is arguably the world's foremost authority on space exploration and research. Sometimes coupled with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the most important data about our home come from their efforts.
You know what....I'm so fired up right now and I really lack the strength to describe the different kinds of contributions that earth-observing missions make. I've done it so many times that I'm just tired. Let's just say that life would be drastically different without it. I'd also easily argue that more people would die without as well.
So...what good is it going to do to put a man's footprint on mars? We have two rovers and a zillion spacecraft in orbit gathering information about that planet. The rovers have sent back GOBS of science data regarding the dirt, rocks, atmosphere, etc, etc, etc. But no....we have to have a MAN'S footprint to add to the collection. Personally, I really do think that endevors like that should be the domain of healthy economies that actually have something to gain from the experience. I agree that space exploration should expand and extra-terrestrial colonization should be a priority.....but in the future! Why should we spend a zillion dollars at the expense of other important and immediately-contributing programs so that we can fly someone to Mars for 9 months and then bring them back for 9 more. Why can't we just wait until space travel is a little more commonplace and the technologies are advanced enough so that it can be done much faster and much cheaper? "Why?" you ask? Because we have to have the footprint.
You may say things like...."It's pure science!" or "We have to colonize elsewhere!".
I'm a big fan of "pure science" research. However, we're already getting loads of data first-hand from that planet and....well....a manned Mars mission now would be a HUGE freakin' expense at the cost of others. Why not fix welfare? Because we have to have the footprint. Why not improve the nation's schools? Because we have to have the footprint. Why not take care of our disabled veterans? Because we......well....you get the point.
Moore's Law....read up on it. In the next decade, we will be able to do it faster, better, and cheaper. A decade after that, even more. So on and so forth. Personally, I have NO problem waiting 30-40 years to get our footprint on that useless planet (and I will continue to call it "useless" until evidence is found otherwise). In that time, better rovers and spacecraft could also be sent to Mars for even BETTER science data.
What is the point? It's like paying a million dollars for a cup of coffee. It may be a really "cool" cup of coffee, but it still costs a million dollars!