Consider that, even if we have the technology to live in space (on an asteroid, in a station, on the moon, wherever), we are still living in a big tin can that's sealed and shielded against some nasty stuff. Sealing the tin can to keep the recycled air in is the first problem. Micrometeorites, anyone? Now you need shielding against all that radiation... oh, cosmic rays too. Food and water will need to be shipped in or manufactured locally. Growing food takes lots of space, and more sealed tin can area. Enough plants could freshen the air. Gravity is a good thing too. Make the whole thing spin. The list goes on and on.
Point being, space is expensive and dangerous. Use your imagination if any one of the above mentioned systems fails. It's MUCH easier to find a nice comfy planet where you have gravity, water, oxygen, food, and shielding from radiation ready made and in abundant supply. Sure, getting there would take a while. The first probes would be automated, and would likely be the first real use for an autonomous AI. Colonies would follow, and we would have all the fresh fruit, clean water, clean air, and resources we could possibly ever need. Right? No? Screwed that one up once before you say? Oh well, there are lots of habitable planets out there, we'll just move on, right? Hmmm, there's a pattern. hehehehe, watch out Galaxy, here comes the virus that is the human race....
Having worked in Federal Government IT for 15 years, I can say that it certainly DOES NOT have any kind of start up mentality. Startups can be dumb or smart, but usually they are quick to act, for better or for worse. Fed programs are slower than a snail running a cross pattern, and usually don't have nearly so clearly defined a direction. They spend good money after bad to get the best solution, and always end up being at the mercy of their vendors.
I worked for the hosting and proserv provider for USAspending.gov and helped bring that site up. I left their employ just before recovery.gov got its legs. In both cases, the sites were deployed on old hardware, and were backed up by a CDN. Good enough, but we warned them that they really needed to get new hardware for their backend. Wouldn't hear of it. They had servers. They spent their money on programming and the CDN. Seems to be working well for them, but it's the proverbial house of cards. Hopefully they've improved things since I left.
In any case, equating the Federal Government to an IT startup is like comparing a Shelby GT 500 to Steny Hoyer on roller skates strapped onto a couple of model rocket engines. Just not in the same league.
(Does anyone know how much more difficult it would be to "see" an atmosphere around an earth sized planet as opposed to a "hot jupiter"?).
It's relatively easy to see the atmosphere of any planet. As they say in TFA, Earth-like planets should only be 1.5 times more difficult to see that gas giants.
Kepler looks at spectra from the stars to see the drop in light associated with a planetary transit in front of the star. When the planet is in front of the star, you can see all manner of absorption lines in the spectra from elements in the planet's atmosphere. The big one you look for is water, and then you march down the common hydrocarbons and organics trees.
Provided you catch the needle in the haystack of finding an Earth-like planet transiting its star at the exact moment you're looking at it, then the atmospheric detection and characterization is easy from there. Detecting a signature of life, especially a heavily polluting culture like ours, is also easy.
There are no data that cannot be plotted on a straight line if the axis are chosen correctly.