Prospector arose as a result of President John F. Kennedy's desire to rehabilitate the tarnished image of US spaceflight. In 1961, NASA proposed a series of robotic probes, including Prospector, to be managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA envisioned Prospector as "a large versatile 'space truck'" that could be launched by a Saturn rocket and that could soft-land on the Moon with a wide variety of payloads. Among the applications envisioned were:
Prospector was initially planned to have its first launch between 1963 and 1966. However, as plans progressed, the project ran into weight overruns, requiring a larger launcher such as the Saturn V. It also began to change its role from being in support of the Apollo missions to more of a substitute, and NASA's Space Task Group did not support it. The project was canceled in 1962.