The Obama administration has sidestepped the moon but still has Mars on the radar. And, the recent Congressional push for quickly developing a new generation of large space boosters - built at aerospace companies in several key states - would bolster extending the "human presence" into space.
This script is straight out of America's pioneering roots: the conquest of the frontier. Just like in the old Wild West days, the solar system has practically limitless energy and mineral resources. And, off-world colonization might help absorb an exploding human population.
Caught in the middle of this debate is our simple quest for fundamental knowledge. For example, we can't find out if life is on Mars without going there. It could conceivably require nothing less than the resources of a full-blown human expedition.
Concern about how we deal with the final frontier goes all the way back to pre-Sputnik days. In 1952 the International Astronomical Federation considered space law: what are the property rights in space, legal liabilities, and responsibilities? In 1967 the United Nations Outer Space Treaty insisted that nations couldn't claim territories on moons and planets (planting a U.S. flag on the moon was strictly ceremonial). The so-called U.N.; "Moon Treaty" in 1979 (not ratified by the U.S.) asserted that space resources are to be shared with all mankind.