In 1981, NASA achieved the world’s first controlled-flight return from space. This was supposed to be the end of spam-in-a-can space “capsules.” The Space Shuttle was the first true spacecraft which would provide on-going, access to earth orbit using a reusable ship:
For reasons I have not researched (but are surely related to program costs), this capability has since been terminated. Currently, the Americans are accessing the International Space Station via the “ancient” tried-but-true Russian Soyez space capsules.
The Russian system has the advantage of returning to a landing rather than an ocean splashdown. Apparently, the last second firing of the Soyez’ retro-rockets transforms the impact with earth from a “crash” to a “survivable collision.” Ouch. Maybe one day the rockets now being tested and used by private corporations for cargo supply missions to the ISS will be up to the task of flying manned missions.