Well, to take a cynical view, consider this plan:
1. Establish rocket company that can send stuff to Mars
2. Send 100 or so humans to Mars
3. OMG they're going to die, but we don't have any more money to send them supplies!
Though I admit, if you wanted to force the hand of society into creating an interplanetary civilization, you would use basically the same strategy if you had the ability to do step 1. I think this is one of the ideas explored in "The Martian" -- society appears to be much more interested in drama than either science or progress. You may note that the people look a lot like hostages in this scenario, regardless of whether they are willing or not.