in reply to The most important near-term goal of a space program:
I think "Establish permanent human colonies" also means "Reduce the cost of putting things in space" i.e. these two are very correlated as you see from the results, so I choose the first one.
I think the most important thing is to find a way to mine the moon for something useful i.e. attract the bussines with something it can make money of, the rest is time.
I think also it is paramount for the humanity to start colonizing the solar system ASAP.. Earth is too fragile and easy to destroy from both nature and us.
I would really like to see colonization starting in my lifetime, so that when I'm 120 years old I can buy a ticket for vacation on Mars :)