Don't know much about the shuttle program's history? MIT's OpenCourseWare provides the perfect place to start: a guest lecture from 2005 by leading space science historian John Logsdon.
The lecture works on two levels now. It's an excellent primer on shuttle history, first and foremost. I learned quite a bit---in truth, I had given very little thought to the origins of the shuttle up until recently. The complex institutional negotiations involving NASA, Nixon's OMB, and the various aerospace firms tell a particularly interesting story about the origins of big national science programs.
The lecture also serves as a piece of history in its own right. Logsdon salts the conversation with references to the plan for space exploration then just recently announced by President George W. Bush---a plan that would hold NASA funding steady while making it a priority to get Americans back on the moon (and very eventually on Mars). As you've no doubt heard, the Obama administration has made such plans history.
(Thanks again to Bob MacGregor for directing me to this lecture.)