Mars is also a nine-month journey with no practical prospect of a "turn around and go home if something goes wrong" option. The moon is three days away and a free-return abort is built into the flight plan (along with a direct abort if the situation is dire). The scale of the two missions is completely different, with Mars being vastly more difficult mainly due to time.
I'm a big fan of the lunar base idea. Start there and develop -- or re-develop, as the case may be -- the technologies needed to get us reliably to and from the moon. Lunar habitats can be inflatable, or built underground using locally available materials. Hell, we could put robots on the moon to BUILD the habitats before we ever go there in person, making the whole trip a lot safer. And remotely controlling robots on the moon is a helluva lot easier than doing the same on Mars. Water is present on the moon for rocket fuel. Solar power is reasonable, but a small fission reactor would be much better. The escape velocity for the moon is lower than Mars and vastly lower than Earth. And asteroid capture missions could redirect to the moon instead of Earth, where the risk of "losing" and asteroid and having it impact would be negligible compared to aiming one at Earth and hoping you don't hit a populated area.
In short, a sustainable lunar base could be used as a springboard for future manned missions to Mars and the outer planets. The moon is IDEAL for this for every reason except one: it currently has no infrastructure for building or launching anything. Let's remedy that as soon as possible instead of trying to figure out how to haul everything out of Earth's gravity well and dense atmosphere. Grab an asteroid, send it to lunar orbit, smelt it down in orbit and construct your spacecraft THERE instead of on the surface. Complex items that cannot be easily made in orbit can be made on the lunar surface and launched via magnetic catapults into lunar orbit for final assembly. Or, for that matter, a lunar space elevator. The lower gravity and lack of atmosphere means we can construct a lunar space elevator with existing materials RIGHT NOW. Forget the magical unobtanium needed to make one on Earth; we just turn the moon into our launch platform for the solar system. Long term, instead of just redirecting asteroids to the moon, we can get to Saturn and grab a few cubic miles of water ice from its rings. Sent to the moon, it could provide water, breathable oxygen, and fuel for thousands of missions.
The DC-X and NASP were cancelled because they were unworkable concepts. The prototypes you saw up until cancellation were about as space-ready as my toaster is. There were too many problems with materials and performance that we do not have the technology to overcome just yet. Boeing recognized this and that's why the ideas were shelved, not some Vast Corporate Conspiracy.
Except for the fact that it does nothing to spread out the human species. Right now, if a calamity befalls Earth such as an asteroid/comet impact, or the explosion of the Yosemite supervolcano, or global thermonuclear war, we get wiped out as a species. In the long run, we MUST leave Earth if for no other reason that to get all our eggs out of one basket.
And, if you want to be REALLY forward thinking, we have to eventually leave this entire solar system, as our Sun will eventually burn out, turn into a red giant, swallow Mercury and Venus, and probably Earth as well if it isn't burned to a cinder already.
So for a return mission we would have to land both a rover AND a rather large rocket to get a sample back.
Why land a rather large rocket? Seriously. This same discussion took place pre-Apollo when engineers thought we'd have to land a large rocket on the moon. Their solution then would work equally well now. Send a lander with a small, lightweight return-to-orbit ascent stage. Leave the Earth-return rocket in orbit awaiting the ascent stage with sample. Your landing/takeoff mass problem is thus solved.
Granted, you now need an automated docking procedure in Mars orbit, but I can't imagine that would be more difficult to engineer than trying to orchestrate a much heavier land-and-return rocket setup.
Jury nullification has a tarnished history here, as it was often used in the South to acquit white men of lynching crimes. While it may be possible for a juror to use it, even mentioning it may be considered grounds for dismissal, or so I've heard. (IANAL)
Remind me again who's been in charge of charge of the House, the Senate, and the White House for most of Obama's tenure? Sure, a Republican was pushing for this pork. But it passed a Senate and a White House both controlled by Democrats, either of which could have easily stopped it. Neither did. In fact, depending upon the timeline (which I'm too busy to fully look up at the moment), it's possible the Democrats were in control of the House as well at the time this was going on. I can't recall exactly when the Republicans took over the House.
The truth here is the entire system is contemptible. Both Republicans and Democrats bear equal responsibility for this debacle. And to suggest there aren't billions and billions of dollars of pork barrel projects championed by Democrats is disingenuous at best.
Yeah, just like Prometheus was the "best ever" sequel to Alien!
Regulations can suck, but they don't -have- to.
Like any tool, regulations can be abused. That's why We The People should be especially vigilant in allowing them to be established in the first place. As hard as I might try, I can't find anything in the federal and state Constitution that empowers the government to look out for me making shitty decisions. Therefore, the government has no business saying who can or cannot drive a taxi. If Uber gives shitty service, they will fail because the market will MAKE them fail. It's not the government's job to choose winners and losers when it comes to providing voluntary services.
These regulations are protection rackets, no more, no less.