Maybe it's because I attended a conference where Burt Rutan, the mastermind behind SpaceShip One, spoke and shared his vision of human beings in space, but I see the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 a little differently than almost anybody who has been publicized by the media. Peggy Noonan, I think, said that the way the space program has gone is a little as if Columbus had discovered America and then nothing else happened. A couple more moonwalks and then the ill-conceived shuttle program, the spacegoing equivalent of a horse designed by a committee.
If only we had decided to turn space over to the private sector after those initial forays, I'm convinced a great deal more would have happened -- maybe not Mars, but possibly a colony on the moon and plans to venture beyond. We let the private sector take over after government developed or subsidized some of the early airplanes and the Internet. As Burt Rutan, who pushed ahead despite NASA's near-monopoly and seems almost ready to establish a viable space tourism business, noted, the Internet didn't start to become useful to a great number of people until after several years of playing and experimenting -- literally, barnstorming for airplanes, and some of the first widespread Internet uses were to play video games. NASA seems almost ready to cede the effective monopoly it nursed and protected for so long. Whether it will focus on basic research and let the private sector do the operational stuff remains to be seen. But that would be a much better model.