There is a variety of reasons why a government space program is so costly. Many of those reasons are easily surmised and the many of the more sublime reasons can only be understood within the context of their execution. Hence, the question is not easily answered in a simple manner. Fortunately, someone once said that: “Now that’s its over, the real story can be told.”
For starters, I would recommend Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft By Courtney G Brooks, James M. Grimwood, Loyd S. Swenson (NASA). I would further recommend ANGLE of ATTACK (Harrison Storms and the Race to the Moon) by Mike Gray ISBN 0-393-01892-X, Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age by Greg Klerkx ISBN-13: 978-0375421501 and The Man Who Ran The Moon. (James Webb, JFK and the Secret History of Project Apollo) by Piers Bizony ISBN 978-1-84046-836-6. These publications showcase the political and financial aspects of one of the most amazing projects in history. (Further books and publications are recommended within the previously mentioned publications.)
In re-reading my comment, I see that I have made the statement that there isn't evidence in the fossil trail of rapid evolution. This isn't correct, I have badly stated that idea. There isn't good evidence of gradual changes from one species to the other. There is evidence of rapid change... just no one knows how.
( a continuation...) The mechanism of obtaining differentiated individuals (or programs)is, per the evolutionary bible, random. What is not random is the selection criteria and mechanism. In genetic programming, the criteria and its application are rigid--inferior algorithms go into the bitbucket. In biology, natural selection is similarly draconian: unfit individuals, individuals who do not fit well in their environmental niche, die. The one process, MLED, is a random process per theory, the other is not. I do not believe that any purely random process will produce a Shakespearian play, let alone a human eye, in the time the universe seems to have been running. There are too many bits to set in the information stream that they could be set fast enough to evolve anything. Further, there is no evidence in the fossil stream that rapid evolution ever occurred. Hence, I believe that some other process must also play a Hand. You are welcome to disagree with this position, or better still think about what it would take to obtain human DNA via any process at all. Alternately, you could just call me names. That's a lot easier
MLED, I am flattered that I should be compared, even indirectly, to Sarah Palin. She is a woman who has great accomplishments on her record, and may yet accomplish still more. You are free to disagree with her politics, but as far as I can tell, Alaskans elected her to a governorship, which isn't small beer. Be that as it may, I'd like to suggest to you that Darwin's evolutionary processes are well described as random mutations. This biological process inspired genetic programming, a technique that has had some success in solving certain types of problems, and (inversely) shedding light on the requirements that random changes to a code (program text or DNA) result in something useful. One insight is that many, many individuals are required to "throw up" a successful program or organism. Another requirement is that there be a clear criteria by which to judge "success". In programming, this might be as simple as the time needed for an offspring algorithm to reach a solution. In biology, it might be the capability to survive long enough to reproduce. (continued next message...)
MLED, you're a hoot. Let me see if I understand: you have run out of rational arguments against my position, so your next move is to call me names? Ah. Perfect. I will consider myself refuted. Hmm. As an alternative to name calling, you might consider re-evaluating your position, which can never hurt. BTW, I am not alone in skepticism that 4.5 billion years is not sufficient to "evolve" humans, in fact, I understand that I am in good company. I will not suggest that the method of your response lends evidence to my position that 4.5 billion years has not been enough time for a random process to deliver human DNA. But maybe if $4.5 billion isn't enough, another $4.5 billion will do. Oops... I meant years, not dollars. ;-)
Finally, we agree! That is exactly how I would describe most of the policies of the Obama administration, and also, the mental state of anyone who would vote for this gentleman a second time. (Surely a gentleman: no one could have a greater respect for the office of the president than I do.) Clearly, discussions of difficult topics can easily be rendered into one-syllable opinions denoting consensus. ;-) /Bob/
MLED, you jump to too many conclusions. I do not blame "everything" on Obama, although I think that he is arguably the worst president that the US have ever been saddled with. As far as his policies towards space: NASA's saga of programs started and then cancelled started with Apollo 19 and on: no administration has ever accorded NASA much in the way of priority since July 16, 1969, because it never paid off in votes. The only reason NASA got what money it did is that it spread itself over all but about 4 states, insuring that Congress had plenty of companies ready to complain of cuts, and looking for handouts related to NASA.
Your examples, atomic weapons and the moon, are not well chosen. Nukes were developed as a wartime necessity; a (Democratic) president made winning a battle of the Cold War, the Moon, a priority, made it stick, and then cemented the resolve by getting himself murdered. Neither of these dire situations exist today: as far as NASA is concerned, administrations are content with lip service.
All that aside, there are plenty of things that can be laid squarely at Obama's feet, even if his failure to support NASA is just a continuation of the implicit polices of the last several administrations. However, this is not a political forum; you'll have to just imagine what I actually blame Obama for.
Lastly, if you regard some of my opinions as short-sighted or ignorant, that is your assessment. I can make the following suggestion, if you do not feel that what I have to say is valuable: don't read my responses.
TMH86, I think that your assessment of a mixed fleet for space mission needs is basically correct. But as you note, everything is cancelled, and vehicles on the drawing board are likely to remain there. This administration has no desire to spend funds on anything like space: in space, no one can count your vote. Money is squandered on environmental science fiction (Solar-gate), supplying Mexican drug cartels with weapons (not the supplying, actually, but the coverup), and magnificent plans to give every derelict in the country universal Internet access, even if it does, as a small side effect,kill off GPS. (What's more important? Facebook and porn sites, or GPS?) As far as space goes, we're hosed: game over. We hitch rides on antique vehicles operated by third-world countries. And I'm not sanguine about the space-related desires of the next administration: the US is sinking in a sea of red ink, and space may find itself an unwelcome beggar at the door. What a pity.
I am not negative on the Space Shuttle. It was a technological triumph in my opinion. The Hubble Space Telescope and ISS would not have been possible without the combination of heavy-lift capability and human presence which the shuttle provided.
I think NASA and Russian capabilities complemented each other fairly well over the last 10 years. NASA had the heavy lift capability, while Russia provided a reliable transport to/from ISS for men and supplies. However, with all the heavy lifting out of the way on the ISS, the Shuttle didn't have a clearly defined mission in the short-term or medium-term. The Shuttle was not a very efficient way of putting a few men into orbit. So, retiring the shuttle this year was probably the right decision, provided we follow up with next-generation replacements.
I do believe that having several types of hardware to cover different requirements is reasonable. We already have several proven launch vehicles in the Delta series, the larger variants of which approach the lift capabilities of the Shuttle. The Ares launch vehicles would have provided medium and heavy lift capabilities exceeding the Shuttle's, but unfortunately have been canceled. I think the combination of an improved Delta, new Ares booster, and the Orion/CEV spacecraft would have provided the hardware we need to cover 95% of what we intend to do in manned flight over the next 10 to 20 years. The other 5% (return to the moon or preparations for Mars) would require specialized spacecraft, but could probably use the existing launch vehicles or Ares (if it hadn't been canceled).
But SpaceX will have enormous pressure to be perfect, which is of course impossible. The first accident of any type on a manned mission will result in that public and political pressure already spoken of to eliminate all risk, and private manned space flight will be cripled, if not killed.