I think Kharkov makes some interesting points about the cost of the U.S. space program, but in large part I suspect they miss the truth of it. American space exploration was launched by Kennedy with two aims in mind. One was as a means of demonstrating the 'superiority' of Capitalism on the world stage - the chief protagonist being the U.S.S.R. at the time. The other was as a means of boosting the US economy. In economic terms, the 1950s had largely been about the US shifting back from a war economy (and recovering from the costs). Kennedy's plan was simple - pour vast amounts of public funds into the space program at the top (via NASA) and then ensure that it trickled out into the broader economy by allowing NASA to award contracts. This wasn't quite a "cost no object" approach, but remember that NASA had a sponsor (Kennedy) who was very keen to demonstrate American technical prowess with a moon landing. So the start of the space program was done on a "just make it happen" budget.
The second aspect to this is to think about contemporary capability at the time: materials science was pathetically ignorant in comparison with what we've learned since. More, one of the major challenges in getting the moon program started was the development of an avionics computer capable of adjusting the vectored thrust of the launch vehicle 50 times a second. With today's technology, our reaction to that would be "Pfft!" (too easy) - back then they had to develop that capability from scratch.
Since the 1950s mankind has learned that a space program isn't merely "science fiction" but that it has a broad range of commercial benefits, including better communications, SatNav, (satellite dish) entertainment and even R&D. Operating in space has become a legitimate commercial goal.
When you combine these two major factors (the pressure to be commercially viable and the *massive* advances in the relevant sciences) it stands to reason that we should be able to start today and develop a program that is massively cheaper than NASA's original 1950s offering.
However, despite all of the above, I do think that what we're witnessing today is special - but for different reasons. If we compare not just the design but the entire mindset behind Rutan's SpaceShip One, for instance, the articulated tail section is not just engineering genius, it's a very elegant solution to the deceleration/re-entry problem... If we look at Musk's idea to allow the "spent" first stage of a rocket to retain just enough fuel to safely land itself... Then it's becoming clear that we've moved beyond the occasionally wasteful "just enough to work" mentality of the "public sector" space program of the 1950s, and are now looking at a commercially viable future.