As I am no expert on space (but very interested, ever since I read the Radio Times double page spread on how Apollo 8 would go around the moon, and watched the moon landing on TV), can someone who is, explain to me why we do not seem to be working on any projects to (learn how to) build autonomous manufacturing facilities somewhere convenient (as high up the gravity well as we can)?
It seems that sending squishies out for significant exploration is probably (i) very hard and (ii) very wasteful. So we need to send more unmanned devices. Surely some of the ones we should be concentrating on are those which would provide assembly facilities for others? Automated factories, if you will.
I don't know whether the best place to build stuff is on the moon (convenient for holding things still, maybe source for some material?), in moon orbit (not too hard to get to, reasonably stable and could be linked to static facilities on the surface if there is any advantage), geosynchronous orbit (convenient for comms but not sure it has any other advantage), low earth orbit (easiest to get to, could even be manned, but there is still significant gravity well to escape for whatever gets built), some Lagrange point?
Of course there are many hard problems to solve. But aren't these the sorts of problems we need to solve if we are to explore the solar system? They seem much more solvable and much more useful than just sending a tiny number of people to walk around briefly.
What am I missing?