In a major disappointment to the lunar scientists’ community, the US space agency has cancelled the first-ever robotic mission to Moon that was supposed to excavate material such as hydrogen, oxygen and water from the lunar poles.
According a report in The Verge on Friday, NASA pulled the plug on Resource Prospector that aimed to be the first mining expedition on another world.
“There are no other (NASA) missions being planned to go to the surface of the Moon,” Phil Metzger, Planetary Physicist at University of Central Florida who is part of the team for Resource Prospector, was quoted as saying.
Building on the findings of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions that proved the existence of water on the Moon, Resource Prospector planned to take the next step and harvest resources.
According to an earlier NASA statement, the agency planed to launch Resource Prospector in the 2020s.
“After a three-day journey from the Earth to the moon, the lander will set down on the lunar surface and deploy a rover carrying the “in-situ resource utilisation” (ISRU) instruments.
“As the rover traverses the lunar surface, it will use prospecting tools to search for sub-surface water, hydrogen and other volatiles,” the US space agency had said.
After The Verge put out the story, NASA issued a statement, saying that “some of the instruments from the Resource Prospector mission would be used in other missions that would land on the moon later”.
“We’re committed to lunar exploration. Resource Prospector instruments will go forward in an expanded lunar surface campaign. More landers. More science. More exploration,” new NASA chief Jim Bridenstine tweeted on Saturday.
In a letter to Bridenstine, the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group has called for the mission to be reinstated and scheduled to launch in 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“This action is viewed with both incredulity and dismay by our community,” the group wrote.
According to NASA, harvesting consumables and fuel off of Earth is an important step in truly pioneering space.
“Resource Prospector is an early expedition that will help NASA and its partners to better understand the quality and quantity of water and other volatiles on the moon that could support human explorers on the lunar surface.
“The technologies and operational capabilities that Resource Prospector validates also will have direct extensibility toward how we may someday harvest resources on Mars, an asteroid, or other planetary bodies,” the US space agency added.
The news comes at a time when US President Donald Trump has signed his administration’s first space policy directive, formally directing NASA to send astronauts back to the moon and, eventually Mars.
“The directive I’m signing today will refocus American space programme. It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use,” Trump said in December.
“This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps some day to many worlds beyond,” the US President said.