I think the part that saddens me is the uniting influence that the moon missions represented in the 60’s, seems not set to repeat itself here. We are in the 2000’s and an equivalent uniting influence such as Mars missions is not being seen as ‘worth it’ from the purely financial aspect. The societal/cultural value is not on the radar for this administration (but then i guess that is no surprise).
I think it’s worth noticing that Apollo happened pretty much only because of the cold war, and because of the need for everyone involved to show how big their metaphorical space dick was. What have we (and by we I mean Nasa and humans as a whole) done on the moon that couldn’t have been done by probes ? We planted a flag. That’s pretty much it. And not even a UN flag or whatever, but an american flag.
As Skappalda said, at this point sending people to Mars would pretty much have one single goal : proving that we can do it. And I can’t think of any country nowadays that would need to do so. What would China or the US or Europe gain from sending a human crew to Mars ? Not much, really, and the advancement in robotics means that the “humans do science better” argument is probably going to disappear over the course of the century.
I do think that our future, or at least part of it, lies in the stars, but sending people to Mars just because we can do it is pointless; and without the need to prove that you have the biggest space dick, it’s useless to everyone.
I tend to think that the only way to make Mars missions useful would be to have them create permanent bases on Mars, for colonization and maybe terraformation further down the line. But that’s nowhere near the scale of a one-shot, “let’s send somes dudes and dudettes on Mars” mission. We’re talking about projects that require much more ressources and dedication. We are slowly reaching the technological level required for that, and we are far away from the level of political unity required. A huge project like this could a be a powerful factor for said unity, setting a common, worldwide goal, but I don’t see the public and private impulse required appearing nowadays or in the near future.