in reply to The most important near-term goal of a space program:
"Reduce the cost" is the only sensible answer, because with cheaper space travel, all the other options become much more likely. For example, we will never have a permanent colony outside of this planet until getting people/materials/supplies there becomes economically feasible. Same goes for trash removal. Until the cost of getting up there to pick up the junk goes down, we'll just keep tracking the bits and plotting flight paths around them.