I agree, I would much rather see money spent on space exploration over the military. Also considering how the military is using more and more robotics and remote control missions, I imagine there is a lot of room for overlap of the two programs. Most people have no idea what the space program has done for this country both in terms of jobs, education, and spin off technologies that impact our lives every day.
The issues I see though are that you need a focus, like the moon mission, that will inspire kids to go into science and engineering. Also, I question whether as a society we emphasize science and engineering the way we used to so I'm not sure if things can go back to days when kids dreamed of being an astronaut. It seems as if science/engineering is only okay if it's to cure sick people, save the environment, feed the starving, or get rich and famous. The first three are all well and good, but they dont include space exploration. Parents used to encourage their kids, well boys anyway, to go into engineering because it was a way to contribute to society; it was important. These days people are much more skeptical about the value of technology and it's contribution to society's progress; and this has been very true with a lot of peoples' assessment of the space program's value. I sure wish there were more people that think the way Justin does.
Another issue is manned space exploration versus unmanned space exploration. I agree with Tyson in that I would like kids dreaming of being astronauts and space explorers again. But there is a very strong case to be made that unmanned space exploration is the way to go because the enormous extra cost of manned space missions cannot be justified by what is learned or accomplished, compared to an unmanned mission. Personally, I think that depends upon what you are trying to accomplish, but regardless you will have to have a compelling argument in terms of justifying manned space exploration. The politics pendulum will always catch up with you.
In terms of NASA's bureaucracy, it certainly isnt the organization it used to be which really makes me sad but is reality in that red tape only seems to be added and never taken away. Back in the 60's if Houston needed a piece of equipment that was out in California, an astronaut would get in a T-38, fly out to California, and be back with the equipment by dinner time. Today, you need a PO, a packing slip, department chair approval for payment, and god knows what else. If you're lucky, work is only held up for a week before you get the equipment. Also, NASA does so much today that shouldnt be a part of their mission. They have to use some of their budget to award grants to small and minority owned business. So you have engineers spending time writing grant RFPs, reveiwing grants, and then believe it or not, many times they have to end up teaching these business how to do the work that NASA gave them money to do.
And then you have Obama telling his top NASA appointee that his top three missions are:
"One, he wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."
These things are all fine, but they should not be NASA's job. They are the job of teachers, society, or other parts of the government. NASA is about space exploration and flight. If you are going to do things that have never been done before you have to be focused, and our politicians have required NASA to veer so far away from any focus that it's become ridiculous.
As far as the involvement of private companies I dont think you can rely on that. It needs to be spear headed by NASA for focus and consistency of effort. Private companies have always been involved but you cant rely on them alone. The minute there's no profit or there's a major problem they're often done. Yes, there are serious issues with NASA's budget and political influence, but maybe there's a better way to address that.