As engineers, we need to avoid getting stuck in the same old mindsets and attempting to solve problems in the same way over and over. Sometimes we need to toss out the old way of doing things and take a fresh approach.
Consider the approach that some of the commercial (privately held) space research companies are taking in doing projects, and compare that to NASA's traditional approach. Rather than lift the whole launch vehicle vertically using powerful rocket engines (high stress over a short time frame), they are using a high-altitude aircraft to lift the launch vehicle to 40,000 to 50,000 feet over a longer period of time -- a kinder, gentler approach.
Aircraft are a more mature technology, and statistically more reliable, more environmentally friendly, and less expensive to operate than rocket boosters. Modern electronic navigation and flight controls allow high-altitude aircraft to fly precisely enough to place launch vehicles on the correct orbital path.
The kinder, gentler approach allows new classes of payloads that previously could not withstand the launch into space, and also allows humans that cannot endure a bone-shaking, lung-crushing, vertical launch to enjoy space travel. It could also allow greater flexibility in launch locations, as there are plenty of airfields around the world.
Now that you've put equipment and people in orbit, consider longer-distance space exploration. There are many new outer space research areas opening, regarding astronomy, physics, and engineering. An increased understanding of dark matter is bringing the realization that the Milky Way (and the universe in general) is full of objects and matter that cannot be seen with visible light detectors. There's stuff out there to explore and probably exploit.
If one has a fairly good closed-cycle (i.e., recycling) environmental system, a good power plant, and good sensors, it may be feasible to do a combined human-plus-robotic journey of exploration. Astronauts would, of course, travel towards a nearby star system -- the obvious choice in looking for other life forms or mineral resources.
On the way there, they could send robotic probes out on side trips, jumping from dark matter body to body. These probes would be scavenging frozen hydrogen, methane, and other elements or compounds as needed. This would make it practical to visit any nearby star system with potentially inhabitable planets. Humans are fragile cargo in space, but the robots are more tolerant of the extremes of outer space, making their side trips practical. Quite the robotics experiment!
So -- would this work? Do you want to be of the design team? Or the crew?