Here’s my story on Yucca Mountain. There are arguments for and against this thing, and your mileage may vary. But the gist is, three decades and $15 billion and now there’s just a dark hole inside a mountain and nothing going on, the problem unresolved. A source referred to it as “a weapons system no one wanted.” It’s like a Cold War bomber that finally got canceled in the early 21st Century.
Your government at work...
Government programs of a gargantuan scale tend to be inflexible and non-adaptive. The space shuttle is one. The shuttle is a good spaceship in a lot of ways. NASA is sure gonna miss it when it’s gone. Nothing else on the drawing board is going to have the shuttle’s versatility in LEO. It can not only haul 50,000 pounds of payload to orbit, it can bring it back to Earth. It can haul a satellite or telescope into the payload bay and turn into a mobile aerospace garage. But the shuttle is limited to LEO, and it essentially has locked the human spaceflight program into a limited menu of possible missions.
And it’s big and expensive. The whole process of building, launching, maintaining shuttles eats up the bulk of your (plausible) human spaceflight budget (along with the ISS, which some critics have said exists solely to give the shuttle someplace to go).
All big programs carry with them an opportunity cost. The shuttle program to date has cost close to a couple of hundred billion dollars (someone out there correct me if I’m off on this). The shuttle’s success or lack of it has to be assessed in the context of what else you might have done with the money and human capital.
More to come on this topic as we near the final shuttle flight.