Re: space colonization and the future of mankind
Not to go too off-topic Ian but I don't agree completely with what you just said. The only reason that the "public" (that's American public since they paid for it) were interested at all was because of the Cold War politics and the "space race" generated by the JFK speech. Sending men in "tin cans" would never come to anything more useful than "we got there first", although it did fire my own imagination as a child, and no doubt most other children of a certain age.
The Space Shuttle was meant to be a proper "workhorse" and to be "fully" re-useable. Budget cuts imposed on NASA meant that didn't happen. It was built "on the cheap" and it obviously had some serious design flaws too, and it did not do what it was meant to do. I expect they have still learnt many lessons from the design that will be useful in the future though.
The public fell out of love with space; the cold war was over and they realised how much it had actually cost them. Politicians have tried to get "the public" interested in Mars - George W Bush made a speech - but with the recent financial woes I can't see any government spending that kind of money without an economic incentive. Virgin sending very rich people up to space hotels is one way, but the shortage of rare elements may bring mining companies into the fold. Mining Companies really do have that kind of money to spare.
The only thing sad about that is that after scouring the Earth's crust and dumping the waste in the holes created, the first thing we want to do on a new planet is the same.