That said, the problem here is that we have been depending on "the government" to get us into space on Manhattan Project type "big science" expeditions, where those programs could be cut and abused because of political whims, graft, and corruption. All of that has happened and more with NASA.
That is not what government science does these days. It's been a long time since the government actually had a major scientific vision capable of inspiring children and motivating engineers and scientists. Government science today is about incremental progress so NASA/NSF/NIH can tell each congressman what specific advances were made (in his district) during his term. This give the congressman progress to put in his re-election materials and motivation to continue science funding for one more year.
Scientific goals like "build an atom bomb" or "land a man on the moon" are clear, specific, and hard. They can be broken down into smaller parts, farmed out across appropriate talent, then re-integrated into an achievement. The closest things we've had in my generation are "War on Cancer" and "Sequence the Human Genome."
As a scientific program, "War on Cancer" is just stupid - we may not have known back in the day that cancer is a vast network of diseases, some genetic defects, some viral, some still unknown, but it was pretty clear from the beginning that they're at least different. "War on Cancer" had no timeline, no deadline pressure, and most importantly, no intermediate milestones. It's the scientific equivalent of the War on Terror - a neverending state of heightened effort towards reducing cancer.
"Sequence the Human Genome" had a clear outcome and a clear path to that outcome. Specific technological challenges that would facilitate its completion. There's no question that it's benefited biomedical science, but it really lacked any tangible demonstration to the general public. My grandmother got to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I'm supposed to be inspired watching Kary Mullis stand in front of a Roche 454 sequencer?
Science policy, planet-wide, lacks public appeal. We need someone to come in and say: "This would be really cool, and we should do it. It will cost a lot. A LOT. Some scientists will think its a bad idea, and we'll have to cut back in many areas of research to get it done, but it will be really cool." But that's not going to happen anytime soon - there's no pressure on the human race, there's no money to pay for anything more than keeping baby-boomers alive in their retirement, and we've denigrated science for so long that we can't even talk to the general public about the wonderful possibilities. Government projects are supposed to be massive, uneconomical, projects that inspire wonder and give the market the technology with which to do cool new products (like personal gene sequencing). Government has degenerated into micromanagement of the status quo.