A Big Truck With Wings
Maciej's fantastic Rocket To Nowhere is a thorough, and throughly sad, look at the Space Shuttle. Even if there's never another mishap with the shuttle, it's doomed, as this article makes abundantly clear.
As a child of the eighties, as a geek, as someone who loves the idea of exploring space, I was completely uncritical of the Space Shuttle program. A big, beautiful plane that could fly into space and back seemed so cool, so obviously inherently necessary that I never questioned it.
In the years since the Challenger accident, and especially since the Columbia accident, though, I started reading more. I started thinking more about what I wanted space exploration to be. And I realized that the Shuttle wasn't designed to accomplish any of those things.
It's a big, unreliable truck, pushed into space by huge rockets, designed to look like a plane for no appreciable reason other than aesthetics, compromised by ludicrous requirements which seem like the equivalent of designing a plane that could land on train tracks.
I hope, for the sake of continued space exploration, that they find a good way to kill the shuttle off and replace it with something useful. But I'm not holding my breath.