I would also note that the current shuttles are not first rev hardware. The Columbia was the last of the first generation. Designed to schematics that predated those of Challenger, it had the disadvantage of being both the smallest and heaviest shuttle in the fleet. It blew up in large part because of that. Had the Atlantis or Discovery been in its place, I think there's a very good chance that the reduced descent heating would have been enough for it to get down in one piece, or at least to get far enough down for emergency egress to be possible.
A lot of people said that Columbia should have been retired when they announced their plans to retrofit it. They were right. It should never have been retrofitted with new electronics. It should have been put in a museum or scrapped. It was an old fossil with plenty of design mistakes.
But the current shuttles are third-generation tech, IIRC. The Challenger was significantly upgraded from the first rev, and the ones that are still intact are all significantly larger, lighter, and have larger payload capacity. Even in the third generation, though, all the things the parent poster mentioned still haven't been fixed, making the shuttle launches obscenely expensive relative to their payload capacity and general scientific usefulness.
Frankly, this is the best news I've heard in a long time. The ESA and the Russians should be able to learn from the mistakes of the shuttle and get things right, assuming they can get past all the politics and corner-cutting. It's like I've always said: build it right to begin with and you won't have to keep rebuilding it....