'...NASA don't do things efficiently. It took them 30 years to realise the Shuttle was the "wrong way around*". Well... that's not true. They *KNEW* it was the wrong way around, but it was a good excuse to pour time, effort and money into some really cool engineering.'
Blaming NASA for the Shuttle is completely wrong. The Shuttle was a compromise between those in the Nixon administration which looking for a follow-on to Apollo, but for a fraction of the cost; and those in the USAF who were looking for a combo orbital bomber and space truck. By the time the Shuttle was approved, the Saturn line had already been closed and there was no alternative way of getting man into space without asking the Soviets.
The original Shuttle plan of the 1960s called for a reusable booster carrying a piggybacked orbiter, all liquid fuelled; to serve a giant space station akin to the one in 2001 which would be in charge of constructing the monstrous Mars missions. The recession of the late 1960s, rampant inflation and the war in Vietnam killed off the Mars mission then the space station. All that was left was the Shuttle, and that on a dramatically reduced budget.
USAF called the shots and dictated the size of the payload bay and the need for a winged glider that could return to base anywhere in the US after making a single polar orbit. Nixon and Congress killed the reusable component by hacking the budget so that the External Tank would be discarded and cheaper reusable solid-rocket boosters substituted for liquid-fuelled boosters.
NASA designed the Shuttle to fit its vastly diminished budget (and blew that as well). It was a botched job - a brilliant botch - but the failure of the Shuttle lies in politics not in the incredible engineering of the machines. It's worth pointing out that no other country has yet replicated many of the Shuttle's features and that the Soviet Buran orbiter was far from finished when it made its single, even more expensive flight.