First of all, read this article. http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/06/18/nasa-voyager-1-spacecraft-nears-interstellar-space/
I'm an astrophysics geek, but I don't understand how a human can read that and then say "damn them sciency types burning money in space."
Now for my nightly rant. Launch five or six probes with a plutonium reactor and toss it in hibernation with intermittent readings of interstellar space. Send them the four to six LYs to the nearest stars. Our kids kids might be rotted bones. But they will reach the nearest stars, and we can build them to last the centuries long journey. When they get there, it'll take four to six years for the data to get here. But as someone who knows the field, I'll burst some bubbles and say faster than light travel is BS. Wormholes will never happen, even if they are possible. The energy required to keep one open is staggering, if possible. But just like manifest destiny, this is our destiny. There's a good chance humanity is gone by the time these probes reach Alpha Centauri and company. That alone is enough reason to send them, a momento we were here. And if we are still here? Holy crap, it would be unimaginable.
But we can't even explore our solar system. I was part of the fight for New Horizons, the Pluto and Kuiper belt explorer. It got canceled at first, mainly because we didn't want to waste the money and it was an unimaginably long journey. Guess what? Twoish years from now, we will have photos of the surface of Pluto. Things like that, unimaginably long journeys, you launch them now, because the results are decades and centuries away. If we do develop faster than gravity assist fly bys, then awesome. We won't. But the time to launch a probe to the nearest stars is now.
Then again, we get two free Hubble successors and they go to waste... Maybe China will do it for us as they make us look like the dying, lazy, greedy, selfish culture we are. But really, how freaking cool are the Voyager probes and interstellar exploration?