The folks at NASA got an email from Administrator Charlie Bolden March 5 (the full text can be found here) explaining why the "Plan B" budget he asked a couple of NASA center directors to formulate was not, in fact, a plan B. Fine. He can call it what he wants. The part of the email that really frosted me was this:
We in the NASA family know all too well the difficulty of the things we do, and we now want to go to Mars and other deep-space destinations. We all know that we can’t get there with the technology and knowledge base that we have today, and that is why we must aggressively embark on a robust program of research and development. I firmly believe we have a budget that supports the goals and dreams we all share, and that we will maintain our technological leadership as well as our acknowledged leadership of human space flight in the world. I need all of you to believe as I do and pull together as a team to make this happen.With all respect, General, we don't "all know" that we can't get to Mars with the technology and knowledge base we have now. The Constellation Program has been in the process of doing just that.
If the program had been given a bigger technology budget, they might have been able to build some things that did not rely so much on the existing infrastructure (people, contractors, hardware). Or, here's a wacky idea: let Constellation continue doing what it's doing with the technology that's available now, spend additional money on the new stuff, and when that becomes available, retrofit it onto the existing vehicles. That way, you've got both a human exploration program AND a technology program dedicated to making that program better in the future.
However, Constellation was told to do exploration on the cheap, with little to no "new money," and with the bulk of the money not coming until the Space Shuttle was retired. Nevertheless, given the hardware at hand, Ares, Orion, and the rest of the human exploration projects were developing the tools to get America moving beyond low-Earth orbit again.
Take a look around Johnson, Marshall, and Michoud, as well as other NASA centers. Folks across the country have been dedicating themselves for over five years to use what we have in the service of a new direction ("Moon, Mars, and beyond"), and to do so as quickly as starvation budgets allowed. Pulling together as a team is increasingly difficult if you are going to insult the efforts of the team whose work you will count on to execute your new direction.