The major point of putting humans in space is to explore. (If you want to do science, it’s orders of magnitude cheaper to send robots, like the phenomenally successful Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which are nearly universally described as “plucky.”) But the shuttle is, in broad stokes, repeating steps that were successfully taken in the mid-60s.writes Amos Zeeberg at Discover. And his article is spot on.
It isn't the fault of the many fine engineers who worked on the shuttle, of course. I go back to Florida to see family every year and at times that has overlapped with a shuttle launch and I have been sure to watch, just like I did for Skylab and Apollo. It's an impressive thing to see a rocket take off and they did what they could but it was clear for 25 of the 30 years that reusable tech was a dream and disposable rockets would have been more cost effective, as would robots
I said this for 15 years. Yes, sending people into space is nice but getting it funded by calling it science is unnecessary - exploring the universe is human curiosity so perhaps it should be funded that way instead of insisting it was the only way science will get done. With the space shuttle retired, a lot of terrific work can be funded that NASA could not and would not fund because of space shuttle concerns. If a robot gets lost, the Congressional hearings are a lot less messy.