The rover, which was being designed for lunar missions in the early 2020s, was killed as NASA revealed plans to cultivate “commercial partners” for moon exploration.
Trump signed space policy directive 1 In November, ordering NASA to return humans to the moon.
But lunar scientists said they learned April 23 that the agency is abandoning plans for its Resource Prospector rover at the end of May. The little rover was being designed to excavate hydrogen, oxygen and water from the lunar poles, with the aim of determining how to extract and use lunar resources to support human life on the moon.
“I’m a little shocked,” Clive Neal, NASA’s emeritus chairman of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, told The Washington Post.
The mission was reportedly cut due to lack of funding, according to a letter sent by lunar scientists to NASA’s new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, calling on him to save the program.
An updated NASA website on the rover mission said “selected instruments” from Resource Prospector will be flown to the moon in the future, apparently on commercial lander missions. NASA released a draft request for proposals under a new Commerical Lunar Payload Services program on Friday.
Bridenstine said in a tweet: “We’re committed to lunar exploration @NASA” with “more commercial partners.”
The deposits that were to be mined by the rover would have “extremely important exploration implications, as they could be viable resources to support not only human exploration into the solar system but also a thriving lunar economy,” said the letter to Bridenstine from Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, which helps analyze scientific, technical, commercial and operational lunar mission issues. Materials could also hold important clues about the moon and space, said the scientists.
The decision to cut the rover “is viewed with both incredulity and dismay by our community,” the letter states. “RP was the only polar lander-rover mission under development by NASA … and would have been ready for preliminary design review at the beginning of 2019.”