Moon missions and space policy

A Florida Today article Sunday suggests that uncertainty about the outcome of the Presidential election, and the resulting effect on space policy, has frozen efforts to develop a series of robotic lunar missions that would be forerunners of eventual human missions:

“They are not going to go forward with the vision until they see how the election is going to turn out, and that’s true of Congress also,” said Paul Spudis, a planetary geologist at Johns Hopkins University who served on the President’s Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond.

“Seriously, their people are running in place and they want to see what’s going to happen,” Spudis said. “My sense is that we won’t actually get moving out on this — on the detailed architecture and strategy studies — until that is resolved.”

That’s true to some degree: it seems unlikely a Kerry Administration would be so keen on lunar missions if it is as strongly opposed to the overall exploration program as it appears to be. However, the article misses the point that there is some opposition in Congress regarding how the initial mission, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), is bring run: while NASA is soliciting proposals for LRO instruments, NASA is building the spacecraft in-house even though there are any number of companies perfectly capable of building it. There have even been suggestions for data purchase and prize mechanisms to obtain the data LRO would acquire, which would seem to better fulfill the commercialization imperative of the Aldridge Commission. So, even if Bush wins reelection and the exploration program continues on, NASA lunar exploration plans as currently stated could still face opposition in Congress.

10 comments to Moon missions and space policy

  • Mark R. Whittington

    I wonder who in the Congress is actually pushing for a commercial LRO mission. Sounds like an interesting basis for a debate after the election. If Bush wins, of course.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The operative point is that despite the musings of some EVERY CHANCE NASA gets to use alt.spce internally it opts for well NASA space.

    And the ADministrator doesnt change that.

    Where is the evidence of reform?


  • Jim Muncy

    One of the problems with Goddard’s LRO mission is that it’s another single, monolithic planetary science mission. It presumes that there only really needs to be one lunar prospecting mission, instead of a stream of smaller cheaper missions that create a lunar telecom/navigation/reconnaissance infrastructure, much of which could be done commercially. And one of the instruments being pushed for the LRO is useless for the Moon, but is necessary for Mars. Apparently they’re using LRO as a testbed for Mars instruments.

    So much for developing and settling the Moon.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    First off, I believe that Mr. Muncy’s post is based on an erroneous premise. My understanding is that NASA is planning at least one robotic lunar mission a year through 2020.

    Second, I think that it is quite a leap to take the fact that the LRO is being built in house (and I realize that there are legitiment arguments about doing that vrs a commercial mission) and saying, “So much for developing and settling the Moon.”

  • kert

    “First off, I believe that Mr. Muncy’s post is based on an erroneous premise. My understanding is that NASA is planning at least one robotic lunar mission a year through 2020.”

    OK, im confused. Why are those plans not entirely public ? Why cant i just go to a website and look at the planned schedules and missions and goals for each and every one of them ?

  • Harold LaValley

    I know that the Mars proposals have missions planned every two years but this is the first I have heard of moon missions beyound the LRO.

  • Harold LaValley

    So far this is all I have found Lunar-A – JAXA (Japan) Lunar Orbiter and Penetrator Mission (2005)
    SELENE – JAXA (Japan) Lunar Orbiter Mission (2006)
    with the only Nasa mission being in a preliminary stage.
    Moonrise – NASA New Frontiers sample return mission under study

  • Jeff Foust


    NASA’s exploration planning documents have stated that LRO is intended to be the first in a series of missions, roughly one per year, that will include orbiters, landers, and possibly sample return missions. Details on what those missions will be have yet to be worked out, and probably won’t for some time.

  • Harold LaValley

    Well in a day an age that we live in where it takes roughly a decade from nothing to actual launch, would it not be prudent to actual think about what we need to do before man can go and to find ways to get the probes built faster to keep to that once a year time frame.

  • Harold LaValley

    I found the Nasa exploration link that says what is known for moon missions as stated by Jeff.