On the past:
Launching Sputnik and landing humans on the Moon were all political decisions, not scientific ones, although scientists and engineers played a lead role in implementing those decisions. (I have only recently learned, from his long-time secretary Carol Rosin, that Wernher von Braun used my 1952 book, The Exploration of Space, to convince President Kennedy that it was possible to go to the Moon.) As William Sims Bainbridge pointed out in his 1976 book, The Spaceflight Revolution: A Sociological Study, space travel is a technological mutation that should not really have arrived until the 21st century. But thanks to the ambition and genius of von Braun and Sergei Korolev, and their influence upon individuals as disparate as Kennedy and Khrushchev, the Moon—like the South Pole—was reached half a century ahead of time.
I hope that nations can at last see better reasons for exploring space, and that future decisions would be informed by intelligence and reason, not the macho-nationalism that fuelled the early Space Race.
For those who need some background on his next quote:
And in the heady days of Apollo, we seemed to be on the verge of exploring the planets through manned missions. I could be forgiven for failing to anticipate all the distractions of the 1970s that wrecked our optimistic projections—though I did caution that the Solar System could be lost in the paddy fields of Vietnam. (It almost was.)
One of the reasons that the Space program lost all momentum after Apollo was that the US budget was strained paying for the Vietnam war, which can be clearly seen in hindsight as a waste of money. Time magazine discusses over $100 billion/year was spent in 1971
1971 3.381 billion in 1971 dollars or 12.356 billion inflation adjusted.
Arthur C clarkes three wishes for the future:
1. A method to generate limitless quantities of clean energy.
2. Affordable and reliable means of space transport.
3. Eliminating the design faults in the human body
[Note: I interpret item 3 as a a weakly transhumanist statement]