NASA cancels lunar rover after Trump vow to return astronauts to the moon

NASA cancels lunar rover after Trump vow to return astronauts to the moon

NASA has ceased work on its only lunar rover, the Resource Prospector, raising concern among some scientists about how "serious" the space organization is about fulfilling President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE's recent vow to send astronauts to the moon.

The Resource Prospector was being constructed to operate the first mining expedition on the moon in the 2020s, but a scientists told The Washington Post that the team was instructed last week to shut down work on the project by the end of May. 

NASA said it is still "planning a series of progressive robotic missions to the lunar surface," but will look to the commercial space industry to complete the mission. An update to the project’s page on the NASA website notes that “selected instruments” from the rover will be landed on the moon.

However, a group of lunar scientists, in a letter to newly confirmed NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, says that cancelling the project will derail the timeline for returning to the moon and shows that NASA is not “serious” about that goal.

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“This action is viewed with both incredulity and dismay by our community, especially as the President's Space Policy Directive 1 directs NASA to go to the lunar surface,” the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group wrote in the letter.

The cancellation of NASA's Resource Prospector project comes just a few months after President Trump touted U.S. space policy and signed a directive in December ordering NASA to pursue sending American astronauts back to the moon.

Clive Neal, the chair of the group, told the Post he was “a little shocked” by the abrupt cancellation. Neal is not directly involved in the mission.

Officials did not give a reason for cancelling the Resource Prospector project, but according to SpaceNews.com, NASA is currently seeking proposals to transport equipment between Earth and the moon under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. 

Bridenstine, who was confirmed last month, said in a tweet Friday that NASA is “committed to lunar exploration” and said that the agency was pursuing more commercial partners.

NASA began emphasizing commercial space partnerships under former President Obama, but Trump's focus on the U.S. returning to the moon is a shift in policy.