During the Moon Race, Moon-bound spacecraft were about as common as passes in a Colts-Patriots game. In about a decade and a half, the United States and the Soviet Union hurled almost 60 craft at the Moon. Some of them slammed into the Moon, some entered orbit, and some carried astronauts down to the surface.
Once the Moon Race ended, though, the attitude in both countries was pretty much "been there, done that." Lunar exploration came to a quick end.
In the last decade, though, there's been a slow resurgence in lunar exploration. America is part of the show, but Russia is not. Instead, some new players are hitting the field: Europe, China, India, and Japan.
Each of them has slammed a craft into the lunar surface to try to toss up some buried water -- and several have succeeded. They've also sent orbiters to photograph the surface and measure its composition. Thanks to advances in technology, most of their observations are far better than those made in the 1960s and '70s.
And much more is still to come. Two new American probes are scheduled for launch late next year, while China and India may send rovers to the Moon as early as 2013. It's not quite a Moon race, but it is a rebirth in lunar exploration.
Look for the Moon rising in mid-evening, with the little Pleiades star cluster -- the shoulder of Taurus, the bull -- to its left. The bull's orange eye -- the star Aldebaran -- trails them across the sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
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