According to a March 27, 2014 story in Florida Today, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden suggested that more than just the International Space Station is at risk because of Russia’s imperial adventures in the Ukraine. He suggested that should Russia suspend flights for Americans on the Soyuz spacecraft, thus shutting NASA out of the space station, he would recommend to President Obama that the space agency suspend work on the Orion spacecraft and the heavy lift Space Launch System. He made the assertion at a recent congressional hearing on the NASA budget.
Bolden’s rationale was that medical research into the long term effects of the space environment, including microgravity, was a vital prerequisite to any American voyages beyond low Earth orbit. However the NASA administrator seemed to be somewhat history challenged in his assessment,
The space agency somehow managed to conduct a number of flights to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s without having a space station. To be sure these flights lasted about two weeks and not the months that a voyage to Mars would take.
An alternative to in essence shut down American human space flight might be to shift American space exploration efforts to the moon while at the same time support companies like Bigelow Aerospace in efforts to create a commercial space station. Once the Bigelow space station was in operation, medical research for long term deep space flights could resume in advance of Mars missions.
NASA could build up a cis-lunar infrastructure to access water on the moon that could be refined into rocket fuel that would in turn sustain a more robust program of human Mars exploration.