NASA just canceled its Moon rover program despite President’s directive that NASA focus on getting astronauts back to the moon. NASA Resource Prospector (RP) mission was set to explore the moon's surface for water, hydrogen, and oxygen that could have been mined and been used by astronauts on future missions to Mars.
The lunar rover was reportedly the only one of its type being developed by any space agency in the world. The RP mission has been under development for more than a decade and was expected to head to the moon in 2022.
Scientists left without answers
Scientists working at the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) were reportedly asked to shut down the project on April 23 without any explanation. LEAG researchers have written a letter to NASA chief Jim Bridenstine expressing their dismay at the decision.
"This action is viewed with both incredulity and dismay by our community," the letter reads. "It is critical that NASA provide strong leadership in documenting that lunar surface return is being actively pursued," the scientists continued.
"Cancellation of the only NASA lunar surface mission currently under development to obtain strategic data from the Moon's polar regions is not the way to signal that intention." NASA has released a statement about the RP mission saying that it is “developing an exploration strategy to meet the agency’s expanded lunar exploration goals. Consistent with this strategy, NASA is planning a series of progressive robotic missions to the lunar surface.”
It goes on to describe how ‘selected instruments from Resource Prospector will be landed and flown on the Moon.’ The statement does not give any further details about what future missions might look like.
In December 2017, President Trump issued the Space Policy Directive 1, which essentially ordered NASA to focus on lunar missions. The directive asks NASA to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”
Missions to the Moon are widely accepted as a necessary step in sending manned missions to Mars. With so much about NASA’s future lunar exploration plans unknown, the rapid decision to cancel the RP is causing concern among many in the science and space exploration industry.
Decision-making process questioned
Dana Hurley, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University and LEAG executive committee member told the Washington Post that she questions the basis of the decision making process.
"If we want to go back to the moon and really work on the moon and make it a place that we can set up research stations and study processes that are occurring on the moon ... all these things are really enabled by being able to use resources on the moon for making fuel, propellant, life support, that sort of thing. This mission is a first step in trying to understand how we're going to exploit those resources,” she said.