According to AFP, the Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology on Taiwan is building a $47 million, 3.7 metric ton lunar lander on behalf of NASA. The vehicle is designed to carry a rover called Resource Prospector which would roll about the lunar surface searching out deposits of oxygen, hydrogen, and water. The Resource Prospector mission is still being formulated but is envisioned to be a joint project with several national Space agencies and commercial companies. The lunar lander is the first vehicle of its type to be built in Taiwan.

Technically, NASA is bypassing the moon in favor of sending astronauts directly to Mars by presidential directive. However, according to the Resource Prospector website, the mission is part of the second stage of the Journey to Mars program called “Proving Ground” during which a number of voyages will take place to cis-lunar space that will test technologies that are needed to send humans to Mars.

Studies by Next-Gen Space, which was conducted on behalf of NASA, and at MIT have concluded that the cost and complexity of a crewed expedition to Mars would be significantly reduced if lunar water, which exists as ice in permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s poles, were to be refined into rocket fuel.

Using the moon as a refueling stop would eliminate the need to bring propellant all the way from Earth at great cost.

The Resource Prospector would take samples from about a meter beneath the lunar surface and then heat them in an oven to ascertain what the materials are that comprise it. In this way, NASA scientists will have gotten a better idea about where useful minerals are located just below the lunar surface.

When the Resource Prospector finishes its mission, the next step that NASA will have to contemplate is a large-scale return to the moon to set up mining and fuel refining operations. A return to the moon in such a manner was not considered by President Barack Obama when he rolled out his space policy in 2010. However, Obama will not be president any longer, and at least one and possibly two more presidents of the United States will have placed their own stamp on America’s space program.

Resource Prospector in contemplated for a launch to the moon in the early 2020s.

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