Wednesday, August 26, 2009
This is the subject of a video here from space.com some five minutes in length that is worth watching for an overview of resources available on the Moon. Ilmenite for example is a name not often seen in articles mentioning the Moon.
In spite of the renewed attention on the Moon recently, every mission sent there during this period has been orbital, and thus doesn't give the same sense of wonder to the average person that a surface mission (that is, a rover) will. Since the Apollo missions we haven't had any images of the surface of the Moon, and even those didn't involve all that much exploration, certainly nothing compared to what the Mars rovers have been doing over the past few years. A surface mission where people can watch a rover's daily progress will be something quite different. Japan's Kaguya mission garnered quite a bit of attention due to its multiple hi-res videos of the Moon from above, and a mission with images from the ground would dwarf even that.
On that note, India has recently finalized the design of the Chandrayaan 2, which will have a rover to explore the surface. The planned launch date for this is 2013 though, and before then it's possible that a company like Odyssey Moon or Astrobiotic Technology will have already done so. Plus a few other missions like Luna-Glob 2.
There is something very important in all of this: note that all these missions are being sent to the Moon, not Mars. Mars is simply too difficult at the moment for countries like India and China to send dedicated probes to, and the same goes with private companies. There is a lot of discussion over whether the Moon or Mars should be colonized first but it would seem that the sheer mass of missions that can and are being sent to the Moon compared to Mars settles the argument for the time being. With the Moon just about anybody can chip in - nations both large and small, and private companies.
See a comparison of the distance between the two here.