Since a space policy speech in 2010 by President Obama, the space agency has been following a loosely defined plan to first send astronauts to visit a fragment of an asteroid near the Moon and then conduct other operations in the vicinity of the Moon before striking off for Mars some time in the 2030s.

NASA s focus on a Journey to Mars, even when the resources do not exist to pull it off, has been an increasing source of frustration within the aerospace community.

As NASA flies around the Moon in cislunar space, Chiao and Pulham warned, these countries may partner with China, which has said it intends to send humans to Earth s satellite within a couple of decades.

Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act at the end of 2015, which allowed private companies to keep any resources they mined from asteroids or, critically, the Moon.

A number of businesses are interested in harvesting ice believed to be abundant in dark craters at the lunar poles.

The spacecraft and rockets NASA is developing, Orion and the Space Launch System, could easily be adapted to lunar missions.

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