Tbh it's symbolic of our country's style, inefficent shock and awe.Yesterday evening I was watching a TV series about Mars on National Geographic and they were commenting about the choice between Mars and the Shuttle program. I have found this an interesting thought. Considering the limited resources, actually to concentrate on the Shuttle program has made it impossible to plan something realistic to reach Mars.
Low orbit and interplanetary exploration are two totally different fields from a logistic perspective. No way. To think that a mission to Mars could start from the low orbit is nice, but to think that to do this we need shuttles ... that's naive ... Russians have built the Mir station without shuttles, using common rockets, and they have dismissed their own shuttle [the Buran] because after some tests they have evaluated it as inefficient and too expensive to carry a payload to the low orbit.
Now, NASA, thinking to go again to the Moon, is developing a modern version of the Apollo vehicle [a big rocket with a command module and a Lem on top, not a shuttle able to reach our natural satellite and come back]. We are observing private businessmen developing rockets able to take land and to be reused [even if they launch cars to Mars!].
Are we sure US haven't lost some decades with the Shuttle Program?
If we think to the temporal limit of Historum, 1991, we could remind all the promises about "space for all" and colonization of the orbit thanks to the shuttles ...
What was it? A wrong direction? An excess of confidence?
But overall ... going back to rockets ... are we going to say that Von Braun was right? So ... why didn't they follow his ideas?
To this question I can suggest an answer: Apollo 13. That mission persuaded American politicians that Braun's way to Mars [btw, Braun thought to the Saturn rocket to reach March, not the near Moon, he presented a study about this in 1969, after other ones he wrote in the 50's, he was a bit obsessed by Mars!].
Von Braun Mars Expedition - 1952
Von Braun Mars Expedition - 1969
To be fair though focusing on the moon is a considerably smarter use of resources than Mars. The Moon could be colonized within centuries, there's just a lot less technological engineering required to make it habitable. I fear with Mars the same thing will happen where we'll put a ton of money into putting people there, keep sending people for a few years and then once people get bored cancel the project. That's exactly what happened with the Moon landing, once the whole space race era of "first to do this" and "first to do that" ended, the funding dried up. Putting a man on Mars feels like another thing we want to do just to say we did it rather than it being a useful contribution to the country or world. But yes the Shuttle Program was a waste but IMO it was more because there was just nothing(relatively) to really use it for rather than having our own space vehicles being a bad idea.