Just found this piece on NASA’s research into faster-than-light propulsion at Popular Science (yeah, I know: often not much better than the Weekly Reader from grade school, but such is today’s media) so I’ll only link. Deep thoughts later. Or not.
Having said that, at least someone at NASA gets it:
In the wake of the shuttle program’s termination and given the increasing role of private industry in low-Earth orbit flights, NASA has said it will refocus on far-flung, audacious exploration, reaching far beyond the rather provincial boundary of the moon. But it can only reach those goals if it develops new propulsion systems—the faster the better. A few days after the 100 Year Starship gathering, the head of NASA, Charles Bolden, echoed White’s remarks. “One of these days, we want to get to warp speed,” he said. “We want to go faster than the speed of light, and we don’t want to stop at Mars.”
If that “someone” happens to be the Administrator, then so much the better. Investigating advanced propulsion concepts and hands-on work like the Asteroid Capture Mission are precisely what a government space agency should be doing. Leave earth-orbit access to private business while helping us figure out how to go even farther.
In the 1920’s, when the U.S. Post Office needed to move large amounts of mail across the country quickly, they didn’t design, build, and operate their own airplanes: they hired out the job to a number of companies that eventually became household names. In particular, you know them as United, American, and the late-great Pan Am. These carriers gave us pioneering aviators like Charles Lindbergh and Elrey Jeppesen.
In other words: a space industry, not a space program.