May 1, 2018—Today it was made public that the Trump Administration, using a budgetary ruse, cancelled NASA’s program for developing a new lunar lander on April 23. The alleged reason was lack of funds. The lander, called Resource Prospector (RP), was to place a rover at the Moon’s South Pole, and drill down to assess the resources which would be key for future manned missions to the Moon. The target date was 2022. Establishing a lunar base is key to further exploration of the Solar System.
This cancellation makes a mockery of Trump Administration pretensions to restarting the manned space program which the Obama Administration savaged in 2010. The NASA announcement sought to sugar-coat the move by saying that elements of the project which have already been developed will be transferred to other (commercial) projects. NASA Administrator Bridenstine tweeted the unbelievable statement: “We’re committed to lunar exploration @NASA. Resource Prospector instruments will go forward in an expanded lunar surface campaign. More landers. More science. More exploration. More prospectors. More commercial partners. Ad astra!”
The program is to be shut down by the end of May.
The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), an independent advisory group to NASA, responded immediately with a letter to the NASA Administrator. Noting that the RP “was the only polar lander-rover mission under development by NASA,” space scientists Samuel J. Lawrence and Clive R. Neal put it mildly when they said “the cancellation of RP could be viewed as NASA not being serious about a return to the lunar surface.”
This move underscores the reality that the Administration’s current pro-Wall Street economic policy will kill the necessary high-technology, government-supported investments, from space science to high-speed rail, which are required to revive the American economy. Only an American System approach, last seen under the Administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, can ensure the progress that’s required.