NASA canceled a mission to analyze the resources that may be available to humans on the Moon, despite the fact that the administration of President Donald Trump considers it a priority to send humans there, according to media reports.
The Resource Prospector mission would have sent a rover to the polar regions of the moon to learn about water and other deposits in and just below the lunar surface. The scientists sent an open letter to the new administrator of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, urging him not to close the agency's only current lunar mission, which has been in development for four years, according to a report by The Verge.
The Resource Prospector The mission consisted of a lander and a solar vehicle equipped with a drill. The explorer would have explored the lunar surface, excavating the earth for analysis. Scientists know that water ice exists on the moon, but the Resource Leaflet would have provided scientists with a more complete understanding of these deposits.
Such knowledge is crucial to expand the human presence on the moon. The lunar ice can melt and split into oxygen and hydrogen, providing a local source of water, oxygen and rocket propellant, The Verge reported. This would not only help human activities become more self-sufficient, but also drastically reduce the costs of launching, since many of these vital resources could be produced in situ.
"If we can show that we can access water on the moon, then we can start designing the equipment that will extract it and deliver it to the outpost," Phil Metzger, a planetary physicist at the University of Central Florida who is part of of the science team for Resource Prospector, told The Verge.
Although not yet fully funded, Resource Prospector's mission had passed the development process. The engineers had been working on the project for four years, and the prototypes were tested on Earth in 2015 and 2016, according to The Verge. The mission was launched in 2022. "It is extensive enough to be a true mission," Clive Neal, professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and president emeritus of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), told The Verge.
The problems probably started when the mission was transferred from one address within NASA to another, according to Metzger. Originally, it was funded with money allocated for human exploration, The Verge reported. However, it moved to the section that funds the scientific missions. Although Resource Prospector was a robotic mission, it did not fit so well into the priorities or budget of the Scientific Mission Directorate, which is probably why it was canceled, said The Verge.
As to why the mission was moved, "I don" I really know what the reason was, but I guess it's probably related to the budget, "Metzger told The Verge. Currently working on the massive Space Launch System rocket, which represents a considerable portion of the program's budget, given the recent growth of private launch companies, several people have criticized NASA's decision to continue developing this expensive rocket.
Miscellaneous LEAG scientists, who advise NASA on lunar exploration, wrote a letter to Bridenstine urging him to reevaluate the decision to cancel the mission. In their letter, they explained the importance of the mission in the current plans to return humans to the moon and expand the national lunar presence
The decision to cancel the Resource Prospector mission is peculiar given the administration's plans current for NASA. Trump has repeatedly called on NASA to return humans to the moon and even signed the Space Policy Directive 1, ordering NASA to return the astronauts to the Moon before the manned missions to Mars and beyond. As of now, "there are no other missions [NASA] planned to go to the surface of the moon," Metzger told The Verge.
The prospect also fits perfectly with the Trump administration's desire to foster NASA's partnerships with the commercial space industry, as there has been a greater interest in lunar exploration by private companies. Several companies have plans to send their own spacecraft to the moon, and some would like to establish commercial operations there. The Moon could even serve as a spaceport for longer distance missions, such as those on Mars, The Verge said.
"Of course, it could happen that water [on the moon] is not easily accessible, and that could change many plans within the industry," The Verge wrote. The mission of Resource Prospector was instrumental in answering this question.
You can read the story of The Verge here: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/27/17287154/nasa-lunar-surface-robotic-mission- resource-explorer-moon.