I hate how cynical and ignorant mods mod people like you up.
First off, you are engaging in the fallacy of idealizing the past, a particular popular fallacy on slashdot. I find the more recent NASA accomplishments a lot more impressive than just lobbing meatbags onto the nearest satellite. Robotic rovers on mars, stardust mission, all manner of flybys and good space science, planetary probe hubble and webb in 2014, etc, Heck, we just had a god damn comet flyby last month.
So "just lobbing hunks of metal into orbit" > "just lobbing meatbags to the nearest satellite"??
Talk about a perversion of difficulty and complexity. Successfully placing people on other celestial bodies and bringing them back is far more difficult than some measly hunks of metal, rubber, and electronics. After putting people on the moon and bringing them back, lobbing satellites is well .. just lobbing satellites. It's like winning the Indy 500 and then spending the next several decades bragging about driving 5 MPH over the speed limit. In town. In a school zone.
The reality of it is, NASA could well send people to Mars and back, and on it's current budget. The reason they don't? They are a federally funded bureaucracy. I'll elaborate a bit.
When NASA was about space exploration, and specifically human space exploration, they were focus on it. As the political will for it diminished they PtB looked for something else they could include so they could continue to exist. So they expanded their definition of what space exploration meant. This continued over the course of the last several decades to the extent that NASA doing "research" in terrestrial lakes is included in it.
Let that last bit sink in some more. Conducting research on terrestrial lakes is considered "space exploration". That certainly fits my criteria for a bloated agency. The reality is that NASA has a lot of "wasted" funding. If they focused their efforts on space exploration instead of "anything science related" they could actually get some real accomplishments under their belt instead of floundering in Low Earth Orbit for 30 years. If they put actual efficiency as a higher priority than "spreading the wealth among the congressional candidates" they could recapture the imagination, and dare I say hearts and minds, of the voters.
No, the reality is that objectively NASA's "performance" has plummeted. The rovers? They did not massively outlive their expected life. They outlived their requested mission duration. And it was stated back then the rovers were capable of far more than their window. And really, what was NASAs "science" in that? They were a carrier. They lobbed those hunks of metal and electronics to the "next satellite" of the sun. Oh and they provided some people to monitor them. We have automated rovers here on this planet, so the whole autonomous robot aspect is nothing new, and hence not an accomplishment to be proud of anymore than a team that wins the Superbowl can consider a victory over a high school team an accomplishment. Terrestrial weather research is not an aspect of space exploration.
NASA has shown year over year, time and again, that they -as an organization- are not interested in doing real space exploration work, just getting the money for it. They've had plans by experts (their own people even) that they themselves determine would be an order of magnitude cheaper, and many times safer. Yet hey turn them down because they don't constitute a large enough budget increase to appeal to a wide state selection of senators. Anytime the bigger ticket is the "preferred" option to a less expensive but safer journey with a higher ROI you've got a classic case of "just give us money so we can push pencils around". And we the people have seen it.
That isn't to say there aren't good scientists at NASA, they do exist. But they are held into a form of bondage by the bureaucracy that NASA has become.
And given NASAs *full* track record, don't count on anything they say they will do in the future, especially something 3 years out. Your selections too are biased in favor of their small tasks. When you look at the list of stuff they "tried" or "wanted" to do but then killed them off for non-space exploration stuff it really is severely unbalanced toward the "no significant accomplishments" side of the scale.
You want expensive moon missions? Convince your fellow voters to trim 100+ billion off our bloated military budget and to put into NASA. NASA gets a paltry 17 billion annually. We spend almost that much of corn subsidies. Your defense budget is 700 billion.
Dont blame NASA because your democracy is broken and prefers to invest its money on war, defense, subsidies, and science last. Its amazing what NASA is doing with such small amounts of money.
Ahh now we see the bias come out further. We could roughly double the NASA budget by shifting the money spent on corn subsidies to NASA, but you go after national defense. You think the PP is Obama or a member of Congress? It isn't "her/his" budget anymore than it is mine. Defense spending amounts are debatable as to when they go from needed/efficient to bloated (and ftr: I think they are very bloated currently). Subsidies, however, are fundamentally flawed and cause more harm than good. For the latest prime example look at health care: it is so expensive because of the subsidies it gets.
Second, perhaps if the government sponsored scientists would spend more time on useful science instead of things that are of no significant value, the public would not think (in many cases rightly so) that the government is wasting money on junky science. For example, spending taxpayer money on "why does the shower curtain suck in the way it does in a shower" versus say ... "how can we better stop rapid outbreaks of deadly diseases" the average Joe might consider supporting more scientific research by the government. When you take my money away form me, I expect a benefit to me. Satisfying your curiosity about why certain things smell the way they do with no practical benefit to me at all (even remotely) is not a good way to get me to give you more.
People (except perhaps the latest generation(s) who have not been taught history) understand the wave of technological, practical benefits the moon race *directly* brought them. From cooking foil to lighter vehicles and appliances.
But that doesn't happen these days because NASA isn't doing that kind of science. Only things you can't objectively measure and demonstrate their value. Like any "good" bureaucracy.
17 BILLION dollars isn't a small amount of money, and NASA isn't doing "amazing things" with it. We the people are basically getting ripped off to the tune of probably 16 Billion dollars per year by the NASA administrators.
And finally, your argument relies on the fallacy that we can, or should, continue to take more and more form the people who get out and are *productive* members of the economy and redistribute it around for such things as space exploration as opposed to letting the people decide for themselves. Really, NASA needs to refocus it's mission. Get back down to space exploration; do things the private sector simply isn't willing to front the costs for - if NASA is to *do* any of it. And NASA/the FedGov needs get the hell out of the way of private space exploration. We already have a private space launch capacity of many billions per year, well exceeding the budget of NASA. Hell, most of the satellites are launched on private rockets. Technically, the government didn't own the shuttle program; it just mismanaged it to the ground.