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NASA scraps a lunar surface mission — just as it’s supposed to focus on a Moon return

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NASA scraps a lunar surface mission — just as it’s supposed to focus on a Moon return

Postby MrFredPFL » Fri Apr 27, 2018 4:33 pm

Story :

NASA is pulling the plug on its only planned robotic mission to the Moon’s surface. The space agency has reportedly canceled its Resource Prospector — a small rover that was designed to excavate materials such as hydrogen, oxygen, and water from the lunar poles. The move has angered many lunar scientists, and now they’re calling on NASA’s new administrator to keep the program alive, claiming it’s a crucial mission to help return humans back to the Moon.

The main goal of Resource Prospector was to help NASA better understand what kind of materials are lurking at the Moon’s poles. Multiple lunar spacecraft have proven that water exists there in the form of ice, but we don’t know much about what this ice is like. Most of the data we have comes from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is in the Moon’s orbit, and a couple of spacecraft that purposefully crashed into the Moon to get quick measurements of the surface’s composition. The Resource Prospector would examine this water ice up-close for an extended period of time, learning more about its consistency and how much of it is out there.

That vital information could drastically change how we plan future lunar missions. Scientists have proposed the idea of mining the water ice at the poles, to turn it into drinking water or rocket fuel. But we won’t know if we can even access this precious resource unless we send a robot up there to check out the area first, and now NASA has canceled its quickest way to find that out. “There are no other [NASA] missions being planned to go to the surface of the Moon,” Phil Metzger, a planetary physicist at University of Central Florida who is part of the science team for Resource Prospector, tells The Verge.

The cancellation seems at odds with the current administration’s plans for NASA. In November, President Donald Trump directed the space agency to return humans back to the Moon as part of Space Policy Directive 1. That’s why a group of scientists with the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, or LEAG, which advises NASA on lunar exploration, wrote a letter to NASA’s recently sworn-in administrator, Jim Bridenstine, urging him to reverse the decision on Resource Prospector. “We wanted to make him aware so he could do his own investigation as to why Space Policy Directive 1 is being ignored,” Clive Neal, an engineering professor at the University of Notre Dame and LEAG Emeritus Chair, tells The Verge.

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