A controversial and expensive asteroid project is being shunned for a cheaper and more practical lunar mission.
Both Democrats and Republicans have agreed on NASA returning to the moon in favor of testing new technologies that can be used in future missions to Mars.
The U.S. Congress members are encouraging the abandonment of the current funding for NASA’s asteroid redirection project – which aims to move part of an asteroid closer to the moon so it can be accessed more easily for research – and using the money for a lunar return.
The current funding request for the asteroid project is $66.7 million – a request that Congress rejected in favor of more extensive research to be carried in preparation for the Mars expedition including tests for habitation modules and vehicles used for landing and descent.
“There is no better proving ground than the moon for NASA to test the technologies and techniques needed to successfully meet the goal of sending humans to Mars by the mid 2030s,” Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, told Ars Technica. “I am proud to lead the Congressional effort to ensure that NASA develops a plan to fully take advantage of potential partnerships with commercial industry, academia, and international space agencies to send affordable missions to explore and characterize the lunar surface.”
It is thought the decision is down to economical reasons with a mission to the moon being a much more affordable investment since the asteroid research would be both expensive and challenging. Another reason is the technology used to retrieve parts of the asteroid can be easily implemented and tested on the moon.
“Experts testifying to the House Science Committee have stated that the Asteroid Redirect Mission will lead to many dead end technologies,” Jim Bridenstine, a key legislator for encouraging a moon expedition told Ars Technica. “Congress is advising NASA to pivot away from (the asteroid mission) toward focusing more directly on developing technologies beneficial to a Mars mission.”
For now, it seems, the asteroid project is likely to be aborted and the decision is supported by former astronaut Leroy Chiao who believes skills and preparation are important to develop before a Mars mission is undertaken.
“Where better to test this hardware, off Earth, than the nearby Moon (three days away)? We would wring out the hardware, develop operations, and train crew. Then we would be ready to mount an astronaut mission to Mars.”