How efficient is iron smelting ?
Therein lies the rub. perhaps allowing the raw billets to re-enter with inexpensive strap on GPS guidance packages similar to those used on smart bombs and have them drop into decent sized bodies of shallow water for later recovery. or maybe just cast them into gumdrop shapes and bolt a parachute to the top and a heat shield made from the refractory slag leftovers from the smelting to the bottom. If you do that you can have them re-enter over the mojave the way the soyuz does over Kazakstan. who cares if it sees 40 g's on re-entry? it is just a hunk of nickel. Given the price of nickel alloys these days surely it would be economically viable. and it is ALL within reach of today's technology too! There is very little that needs to be developed. Nasa and others have done all the research, it is time to do it on a pilot scale. somebody will, the only question is who.
As for the moon infrastructure I have some ideas on that. Some of them may have some commercial worth so I'd prefer not to talk about them in the open forums, but I'd be happy to share them with you via e-mail.
As for not getting anywhere in the last 30 years, I chalk that up to relying too much on NASA to do the heavy lifting. NASA is a political creature. They live and die by congressional funding. Too often congressional funding comes with so many strings attached that no real useful work comes out of it. a lot of times they are mandated to do something that has only tenuous links to aerospace so a lot of the money nasa gets is congressionally mandated to go down some pork barrel hole, never to be seen again. Even when they do get funding for something worthwhile, those multi-year projects get killed two years later when a different congress or a differnt administration decides that they want the money for something else. the only way to get anywhere is to make it economically viable for private enterprise. that is why I say baby steps. baby steps with a dollar sign hung on a pole in front. each step has to have a payback attached or it won't get funded. Rutan, Branson, and Bezos have the right idea. Space will be exploited not by governments, but by private enterprise.