Annalee Newitz's Stop pretending we aren't living in the Space Age is a magnificent rant on the incredibly achievements of modern space programs, and a savage indictment of the lack of imagination underpinning complaints about the failure of humans to return to the moon in force.
More importantly, humans have continued the project that our grandparents and great-grandparents started in the 1950s when the Space Age began. Remember how that project got off the ground with remote-controlled satellites? Want to know why? Because that is how smart explorers do it. Believe it or not, we are actually clever enough monkeys that we are carefully doing a little reconnaissance in distant, dangerous places before we send people there. Which is why we have sent probes to Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto, and even to several moons and comets.
We currently have two robots on the surface of Mars that we are actually driving around. They are equipped with instruments that can do pretty sophisticated science experiments. We also have a satellite orbiting Mars, the MRO, which can take incredibly granular images of the planet's surface and do climate analysis. Using these robots and the MRO, we have discovered important things like the fact that Mars has underground ice, and once had seas on its surface. This is precisely the kind of information we need to know before we get to the planet ourselves.