I think the Space Shuttle was just a big flop that only escaped being cancelled because the US Government has such deep pockets. In the end, in fact way before the end, it was a jobs program more than anything else. It set the space program back something like 20-30 years.
I don't understand why people can't just admit it was a horrible mistake. Actually, of course I do understand, so many valuable lifetimes of work were sunk into it.We have to pretend.... But we should have just been building cheaper rockets (which the two other programs on the table proposed) - or funding a Ramjet, or Roton, or almost anything else. The only really useful thing the Shuttle did was repair Hubble.
Imagine where we would be now if NASA had done something like COTS 20 years ago after Challenger blew up instead of building another Shuttle.