NASA cancels Moon rover project

Lunar scientists ask NASA Administrator to reinstate mission.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Sep 17, 2018
NASA is canceling the Resource Prospector, a lunar rover mission scheduled for launch in 2022, according to an April 23 statement in which the agency asked the mission team to end its operations within a month.

Designed to excavate materials such as hydrogen, oxygen, and water from the Moon's poles to study ice in these locations, Resource Prospector is the only NASA Moon mission in the works. Lunar scientists are asking newly-appointed NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to reverse the cancellation of what is viewed as an important step toward returning humans to the Moon.

A detailed study of water ice at the lunar poles would help scientists better plan future Moon missions by shedding light on the possibility of melting the ice for use as both drinking water and rocket fuel.

Although the project is not yet fully funded, NASA engineers have been working on it for four years, designing both hardware and science instruments and even testing a prototype on Earth in 2015 and 2016.

Plans had called for Resource Prospector to include both a lander and a rover. Equipped with a drill, the rover would travel around the lunar surface excavating material and analyzing it in various regions.

A concept plan for the mission was scheduled for a design review at the end of this year.

Science website The Verge quotes mission science team member Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida, as suspecting the cancellation is occurring due to budgetary concerns.

NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is behind schedule. It is possible that money intended for Resource Prospector is being re-directed toward SLS.

The ability to make rocket fuel from lunar ice would significantly reduce costs associated with launching from Earth. Scientists suspect water ice on the Moon contains carbon, which astronauts could use to protect lunar habitats from radiation.

Because the Trump Administration just this week announced the Moon as a priority for study and exploration over the next decade, the cancellation is especially baffling.

Scientists with NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), who advise the agency on lunar exploration, have sent Bridenstine a letter urging reversal of the cancellation and investigation into why it occurred.


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