>41 years ago today, Neil Armstrong cracked open the hatch of the Eagle lunar module and took one giant leap for mankind. Then mankind rolled up its sleeves, picked up a shovel, and dug in. That was quite enough adventure, thank you very much.
We've got a shuttle fleet somebody is eyeing for a museum. An international space station with the "international" in quotes and the plans in place for it to crash into the ocean (hopefully) 10 years hence. And the Hubble telescope -- the last example of NASA actually broadening human understanding -- will fall from orbit in the coming decade, or fall into permanent disrepair, whichever comes first.
We were going to return to the moon by 2014. Scrapped. We were going to build a moonbase by 2020. Scrubbed. Mars? It's not going anywhere, and neither are we. We might have a new shuttle in a few years. We might not.
There is a solid argument for abandoning space on budgetary grounds. But it is intellectually and fiscally indefensible for NASA to be run like the Department of Education. NASA is a government agency, but it is also an engineering firm. When they are given a defined mission to, for example, return to the moon, NASA's men and women take the job seriously. To "slip the surly bonds of Earth" and set up shop in the void requires intensive and nontrivial planning and training. Six years into that planning, with the stroke of a pen, all of that work amounts to a stack of paperwork and a lot of unfurled blueprints. It is similarly ridiculous to make drastic and dramatic changes to goals and direction. "Forget the Moon -- we'll land on an asteroid!" As though such adventuring involves little more than steering rockets a little to the left and firing off a tractor beam.