Am I the only one who thinks this is a damn waste of money? Are they going to learn anything on Mars that will feed the hungry on earth, help us fix what we've screwed up in our atmosphere, replace what we've used up & wasted, cure any diseases?? Anything fricken useful for real anyone other than scientists and academics??
No, you're probably not the only one. But for the long-term prosperity of the human species, I believe establishing a permanent human presence in space (on Mars, Luna or elsewhere) is vital.
For instance, unless we learn to curb our consumption of resources, we are going to run out of things we need to keep our civilization going: certain metals, cheap oil and so on. Our highly advanced, highly populated, highly wasteful mode of life (particularly in the "first world") can't be sustained indefinitely.
It would / will take time and incredible effort to reach such resources in space and make their exploitation economical. But doing so would give the human race options for long-term survival that right now we don't have, not if we want to keep the astounding progress we've made in the last thousand years and improve on it.
kcrady mentioned exploiting Earth (orbit)-crossing asteroids; here's a thread that deals with that. Links there for explaining the idea in greater depth. http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php/topic,22332.0.html
You're in the medical / health profession; can you see the scientific implications of discovering independently-evolved life on Mars or elsewhere? The applications for research, comparing such life to ours, gaining insight into biology in general?
Also, the money spent on exploring our solar system and investigating astronomy off Earth is a pittance compared to most other national expenditures, at least in the US. But because of it's high profile and perceived low-return, space exploration / exploitation is sadly a convenient target for political / economic scapegoating.
Lastly... the hovertext in this cartoon:http://xkcd.com/893/