NASA has called off a mission to search for and evaluate the resources that humans might be able to use on the moon, despite the Trump administration saying that it is a priority to send people to the lunar surface.
The Resource Prospector mission is NASA’s only current moon mission, and was designed to send a rover to the moon’s polar regions to gather more information on water deposits on and just beneath the surface, Space.com reports. Scientists have sent an open letter to Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s new administrator, asking him not to pull the plug on the mission, which took four years to develop.
The moon mission consisted of a lander and a solar-powered rover that had a drill. The rover was meant to scout the surface of the moon, digging up soil for analysis. Scientists already know that there is water ice on the moon, and the Resource Prospector would have given more insight into these deposits and on how they might be used in the future.
This kind of knowledge is important in expanding human presence on the moon. Lunar ice can potentially be melted and broken down into oxygen and hydrogen, providing a viable source of water, oxygen and rocket propellant. This would make human colonies more self-sustaining, and would slash launch costs as the resources could be sourced locally.
Phil Metzger, a planetary physicist at University of Central Florida who is part of the science team for Resource Prospector, said,
If we can demonstrate that we can access the water on the moon, then we can start to design the equipment that will mine it and deliver it to the outpost.
Prototypes of the mission were executed on Earth in 2015 and 2016, with plans to launch the mission in 2022. Problems started to arise when the mission started getting transferred within NASA’s directorates. Metzger said he’s not sure why the mission was shelved. “I don’t really know what the motive was, but I’m guessing it was probably budget-related.”