I think, we should think along the lines of space exploitation than space exploration. Autonomous satelites are good enough for exploring, but they don't bring back to Earth anything other than data.
To make space accessable to humans, there must be a reason for them to be there in the first place.
Reusable TSTO will get you to LEO, where you can refuel. Methane and LOX are good propelants for storage, in-space production and refueling to go to your destination resonablly fast.
What we need is a destinatination that is cheap to build and run, and that can actually pay for itself. Mars or Moon looks like a good destination, but the best destinations are asteorids that need the minimum amount of delta-v to bring to L1/L2/HLO. A BIG iron rich rock brought there would mean, that you could build large rotating cities that would be able to extract expensive metals from space rocks for export to Earth and the rest of the material to expand itself, tools, propellant, consumer products, air and food with solar energy.You could then slowlly transfer those giant spacestations via Intestelar superhighway network to Mars, Jupiter or other asteroids. The fact, that it would be almost selfsuficient from the Earth, would mean it would be cheap to run and would be able to pay for anything it imports with things that it exports. UK doesn't have to support its former colonies, but it can trade with them to make everyone better off.
Randy, have to agree with you.There are many folks with romantic visions of "free" colonies and stations wandering the system.All of that is looking like true fantasy.The dangers inherent of someone leaning on a door switch, or getting drunk and falling down the gravity well, are just to ominous to ignore. Most likely will have to be structured like a military org, or at least a nuclear reactor facility. And look how that turned out.
A lot of discussion on "why's", can be found over on the Rocketpunk Manifesto, mostly in the archives.http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/The true "why" is going to end up being an incoming rock, or terrestrial habitat destruction.If it is a rock, we have no chance. There isn't a single useful plan, that doesn't include tech needed for NEO mining. Paint, lasers, mirrors, etc., are all long term tech that needs to be practiced now. Gravity tractors wouldn't be useful unless you had a big enough attractor to do some actual attraction. That means moving big rocks around too, and at KPS velocities.
The ISS is currently the "only" destination in LEO and being under government control their needs will always take precedent over commercial/private concerns.