NASA has canceled a mission to test the resources available to people on the moon, although President Donald Trump's government has made it a priority to send people there, according to media reports.
The Mission Resource Prospector would have sent a rover to the polar regions of the Moon to learn about water and other deposits on and under the lunar surface. Scientists have sent an open letter to new NASA administrator Jim Briddenstine urging him to close the agency's only current lunar mission, which has been under development for four years, according to a report by The Verge.
The Resource Prospector The mission consisted of a lander and a solar-powered rover equipped with a drill. The rover would have explored the lunar surface and dug ground for analysis. Scientists know that water ice exists on the moon, but the Resource Prospector would have allowed scientists to better understand these deposits.
Such knowledge is crucial to the expansion of a human presence on the moon. Mondeis can potentially be melted and split into oxygen and hydrogen, which is a local source of water, oxygen and rocket fuel, reports The Verge. Not only would this help to make human activities more self-sustaining, but also significantly reduce start-up costs, as many of these vital resources could be produced locally.
"If we can show that we have access to water on the moon, then we can begin to design the equipment that will mine it and deliver it to the outpost," said Phil Metzger, a planetary physicist at the University of Central Florida "This is part of the research team for Resource Prospector," said The Verge.
Although the Resource Prospector mission was not fully funded, it was well beyond the drawing board. Engineers have been working on the project for four years and prototypes have been tested on Earth in 2015 and 2016, according to The Verge. Plans had to start the mission in 2022. "It's far enough that it's a real mission," said Clive Neal, Professor of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame and LUNAR Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), The Verge.
Problems probably started when the mission was transferred from one direction in NASA to another, Metzger said. Originally it was funded with money for human research, reports The Verge. However, it was moved to the area that funds scientific missions. Although Resource Prospector was a robotic mission, it did not fit well into the priorities or budget of the Science Mission Directorate, which is why it was probably canceled, The Verge said.
Why the mission was postponed: "I do not know I really do not know what the motive is, but I suspect it was probably budget-related," said Butcher The Verge. NASA's human exploration program is currently working on the massive rocket Space Launch System, which accounts for a sizeable portion of the program's budget. With the recent growth of private startup companies, a number of people have criticized NASA's decision to further develop this expensive rocket.
Several LEAG scientists advising NASA on lunar research wrote a letter to Bridenstine urging him to reconsider the decision to abandon the mission. In their letter they explained the importance of mission in the current plans to bring people back to the moon and increase the lunar presence of the country as a whole.
The decision to abandon the Mission Resource Prospector is unusual given NASA's current government plans. Trump has repeatedly demanded that NASA bring people back to the moon and even sign the Space Policy Guideline 1, which requires NASA to return astronauts from manned missions to Mars and beyond to the Moon. As of now, "there are no other [NASA] missions planned to reach the surface of the Moon," said Butcher The Verge.
The Resource Prospector also fit well with the Trump Administration's desire to promote NASA's partnership with the commercial space industry, as interest in lunar research has increased from private companies. Several companies have plans to send their own spaceship to the Moon, and some would like to build commercial activities there. The moon could even serve as a spaceport for long-range missions like those to Mars, The Verge said.
"Of course, water [on the moon] may not turn out to be easily accessible at all, and that could change many plans within the industry," wrote The Verge. The Resource Prospector mission was critical in answering this question.
You can read The Verge's story here: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/27/17287154/nasa-lunar-surface-robottic-mission- Resource Prospector Moon