As I've noted before, the US Government created the Union Pacific Railroad and gave it tons of money specifically to build a transcontinental railroad. Without Government money, the railroad would have been build decades later. Similarly, the US government spent tons of money to go to the Moon. Again, no money, no Moon.
The difference, however, is critical. See, the Union Pacific knew that sooner or later it was going to have to cover its operating expenses and (in their case) repay loans. This drove all kinds of decisions, large and small. Obviously rail was a more mature technology then rockets, but I do think the analogy holds. We're now doing something similar, in that we're paying private contractors for orbital access.
This is why I'm not terribly sad that the Shuttle is retired. You see, I want space exploitation. I want colonies on the moon and weekend trips to orbital stations. These things only happen if launch costs go down. In truth, even if governments wanted to colonize space, launch costs still have to go down. Either that or you get a "colony" of two or three people camped out on a crater.
So, go for private enterprise!