Maciej Ceglowski’s article, A Rocket To Nowhere, is a must read. He explains the failings of the space shuttle program, starting with the initial design. It’s the kind of article you’d expect to read in the New Yorker, except that it’s freely available on a personal site. Amazing stuff.
My favorite quote:
There is no satisfactory answer for why all this commotion must take place in orbit. To the uneducated mind, it would seem we could accomplish our current manned space flight objectives more easily by not launching any astronauts into space at all – leaving the Shuttle and ISS on the ground would result in massive savings without the slighest impact on basic science, while also increasing mission safety by many orders of magnitude. It might even bring mission costs within the original 1970’s estimates, and allow us to continue the Shuttle program well into the middle of the century.