Upon the fortieth anniversary of man landing on the moon we find NASA and the space program wallowing in uselessness. The moon landing became the driving force, the projector that NASA was. After the Apollo program ended there was nothing to do. The space shuttle was invented to keep NASA in business and develop low earth orbit projects. Unfortunately that has developed into nothingness for the American public.
Low earth orbit science does not capture the imagination of the tax-paying public. It may be useful and worthwhile to a small segment but that small segment does not pay for it. NASA needs a grandiose project to capture the imagination of the public once again. Forty years ago it was a magical moment watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I remember sitting in my parents living room as one of the millions who stopped their lives to watch something that had never happened in the history of the human race; we set foot on another world.
If you think people are not captivated by what happens at NASA, take a look at the Hubble telescope. After ten years it is seen as an icon, a historic marker of achievement by the common person. When it was learned the telescope would not be repaired and would be allowed to fall into the atmosphere and burn up, the uproar heard by the public was enough to make NASA rethink it's decision and send a repair mission to our favorite public-works project.
Some say the money should be used to fix this or that, eliminate homelessness or some other social program. Those problems will always be there no matter how far ahead this country progresses. Someone will always cry poor me, help me. There is something to say for science as science. It still captures the imagination. The deep space probes and the pilotless crafts sent to explore the solar system are fascinating to many. Sometimes it is something that just needs done to satisfy our curiosity.
There is nothing wrong with exploring just to explore. That is what we do as humans and somewhere in that exploration we will improve our lives. Returning to the moon as a jump-off to Mars is as good a project as any.
Besides, we may just find the needed replacement for Tang somewhere along the way.