“Lunar Prospector: Against All Odds,” by Alan Binder, Ph.D. (Ken Press, see ken@kenpress.com or call 520-743-3200), is the highly personal and engaging story of how the Lunar Prospector orbital mapping mission was developed and carried out by the author between late 1989 and 2001 (see www.lunar-research-institute.org for an outline of the book and a photo essay of the mission).

While this is partly a technical story, it is much more a human interest story about how an individual can, with persistence and a belief in the value of what one is doing, overcome all odds and obstacles and achieve an impossible goal. Further, like the Lunar Prospector Mission itself, this book was written to expose to the American taxpayer the basic flaws of an ever increasingly incompetent NASA and its major aerospace contractors.

Though the Lunar Prospector Mission was a small, inexpensive, unmanned, orbital mapping mission, the reader will, via the author’s experiences in conducting his mission, become intimately acquainted with the inefficient and self-serving activities of the entrenched NASA bureaucracy and the big aerospace companies. As such, the reader will come to understand how NASA’s increasing incompetence led to 1) the destruction of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia and their crews, 2) the loss of the 1992 Mars Observer, the 1999 Mars Climate Observer, the 1999 Mars Polar Lander, 3) the never-to-be-finished International Space Station that is already five times over its $8 billion budget and a decade over its original schedule, and 4) many similar NASA failures that have cost the taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and have already taken 14 human lives.

The reader will also find that the goals of the mission, originally conceived as a private effort, were to demonstrate that when missions are conducted in a commercial mode, outside of NASA rather than as a government bureaucracy-driven program, the costs are reduced by up to a factor of 10 and the time scale of development is cut by a factor of two or more.

Since the author could not find philanthropic support for such a private mission during the first seven years of the effort, he proposed the mission to the new NASA Discovery Program that was designed to show that missions could be done “Faster, Better, Cheaper.” Lunar Prospector became the first peer-reviewed and competitively selected Discovery Mission in 1995. Four and a half years later, the mission ended its completely successful, 19-month mapping program of the moon at a total cost of just $65 million, a quarter of the cap for Discovery Missions and a fraction of the cost of normal NASA missions.

Lunar Prospector, the most cost-effective lunar mission ever flown, was the first and only Discovery Mission to really show how to do missions “Faster, Better, Cheaper.” And the author is the only scientist in the history of the NASA space program to have guided and led a mission from its inception through its ultimate success, despite NASA’s resistance to the author’s having total control over his mission.

After having succeeded in demonstrating the “commercial viability” of lunar exploration, the author turned to trying — unsuccessfully — to convince NASA and the federal government to initiate a commercially based, lunar exploration program with the ultimate goal of utilizing its resources for the benefit of humanity and to obtain a return on investment for the American taxpayer.

However, perhaps as a result of the destruction of the Columbia high over Texas on the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, or perhaps because President Bush had already realized that NASA is in a state of fatal decline, the president wisely announced his new Lunar/Mars initiative in an effort to give NASA meaningful direction, the first it has had since the end of the Apollo Program more than 30 years ago, and to get the commercial sector heavily involved in its implementation.

Though it is questionable that Lunar Prospector’s success in demonstrating that lunar exploration can be done inexpensively as commercial ventures had any influence on the president’s January 2004 decision to start a new Lunar/Mars initiative, Lunar Prospector showed it could done several years before the president made his decision. And it is without question that Lunar Prospector did influence the provisions of the Commercial Space Act of 1998 passed by Congress.

The new book, “Lunar Prospector: Against All Odds” will not only show the reader the technical and human sides of an exciting lunar exploration mission, it will also demonstrate why it is vital to the nation’s interests that the exploration of the moon and planets must be taken out of the hands of the bungling NASA bureaucracy, and transformed into a commercially based program that provides a return on investment as initiated.

The author, Alan Binder, Ph.D., is available for interviews.


Lunar Research Institute, Tucson

Alan Binder, 520-663-5870