The American space shuttle program was, from what I understand, a radically different approach to space exploration at the time of its inception. With the enormous changes in technology and knowledge accrued in the 30+ years since then, I want to know: is the space shuttle program considered a financial success compared to other programs?
To be more explicit: looking back, would it have been more cost-effective to use other technologies and approaches to explore space rather than the 'reusable' Space shuttles? Did they enable us to do anything we could not do with "conventional" technologies? Were conventional tactics any cheaper to manufacture/launch?
To cite an example (Why didn't NASA use the shuttle to make a profit?) - the shuttle's primary advantage was "cost efficiency", but apparently this was proven to be a fiction after only one launch. If the greatest advantage of a program disappeared after just one launch, one would imagine the program would become worthless, yet it continued for thirty years.