Ironically, even as we use the Space Race language, our nation has all but abandoned the exploration of space. This trajectory is moving in the opposite direction many Americans were culturally raised to expect. For those of us raised on the futurism of the 80's, we might be able to accept that flying DeLoreans are still out of range, but the retreat from space is unacceptable.
Though it is more difficult to justify the incredible costs of space exploration, compared to the more immediate status of the crumbling piles of dirt here on Earth that serve to protect cities from flooding.
So, why is exploration of space so expensive? According to this fantastic article at Slate, rocketry expense is the result of path dependency and lock-in sprinkled with the historical rise of madmen. Here are the ingredients:
1. World's most technically advanced nation under absolute control of superweapon-obsessed madman
2. Astonishing advent of atomic bombs at exactly the same time
3. A second great power dominated by secretive, superweapon-obsessed dictator
4. Nuclear/strategic calculus militating in favor of ICBMs as delivery system
5. Geographic situation of adversaries necessitating that ICBMs must have near-orbital capability
6. Manned space exploration as propaganda competition, unmoored from realistic cost/benefit discipline
The above circumstances provide a remarkable example of path dependency. Had these contingencies not obtained, rockets with orbital capability would not have been developed so soon, and when modern societies became interested in launching things into space they might have looked for completely different ways of doing so.
Well worth the read, one wonders that, if rocketry is what makes exploring space an unreasonable cost burden, when will we examine alternative methods to get ourselves into space?