Why so little interest in robotic exploration of the Moon?

Sure, we’ve mapped it from orbit to a fairly high resolution, and the 1970’s Apollo and Luna missions brought back samples. But after the Lunokhod rover program ended there was virtually zero interest in exploring the moon robotically. You’d think there would be sites of interest we’d like a ground-level view of, or additional sample returns. And both the US and USSR/Russia have had enough boost capacity for such missions since the 1970’s. Surely we haven’t written off a territory as big as North America with a “been there, done that”?

Been there. Done that. The moon is so 70s. Mars is where it’s at.

That’s actually pretty accurate. The moon is a dead chunk of rock, that never had much of an atmosphere, or water, or any life. Nothing much interesting to learn from it any more.

Mars, however, is a whole planet with various types of minerals inside it, and some tectonic action. It still has some atmosphere (and once had more), it once had water (and might still have some), has icecaps at the poles. And it’s a lot bigger, so there are lots of parts that haven’t been studied hardly at all. Overall, a much more interesting place to explore.

To add, the underlying goal besides space exploration is human space travel.

This thread is calling for opinions, so I’ve moved it from GQ to IMHO.

Spend a gazillion dollars to map a dead hunk of rock with a fairly boring geology that’s been visited physically, and pretty throughly mapped and explored from space?

Yeah… it’s a mystery.

A robot on the Moon?

Sounds kind of cheesy if you ask me.

Seems to me that setting up a permanent base on the moon would be a critical, if eventual, step to that end. So far AFAIK we’re only speculating whether there’s enough ice hidden away in polar craters to support a colony; why not send up a robot and find out for sure? And do we sufficiently understand the materials that can be found on the moon such that we can start planning out on-site construction one day?

I see what you did there…

I’ve wondered the same thing. There wasn’t much publicity about the Lunakhod program that I recall at the time – I was astounded when I learned about it later. Lunakhod was the first remotely-controlled robotic surface explorer, and it did impressive work, but the capabilities have improved markedly since then – the Mars Rovers have covered more distance and sent back more pictures than the lumar rovers did.
I know that the moon has been extensively mapped, but there are still things you can only see and explore from the ground. Take “Dust Fountains”, for example:


It’d be worth nsxending lunar rovers – the moon is close, the time lag is sjorter, and there are still unexplored areas.

The far side is significantly different from the near side, and has never been landed on. Would there be scientific benefit to sending a rover to the far side?

There’d have to be an orbiter or two to relay between the far side and Earth, but that’s certainly not a show stopper.

I’m sure a rover would find many interesting things, but the chance of finding anything non-trivial and thus justifying the cost of such a program is probably nil. The moon may hold wonders beyond imagining - somewhere - but a crawler may not find any of them in ten years of exploring a 20-mile radius. There are just more fruitful places to spend our scant space dollars.

We already have several sacks of moon rocks and studied them. iirc they weren’t anything special. Just rocks like Earth has.

The rover on Mars is drilling and analyzing the rock now and doing other experiments.

Actually, Moon Rocks aren’t “just like earth rocks”. Besides the moon not having any of the rocks and minerals that result from biological action (like various kinds of bog iron) or water action (sedimentary rocks), three mineral have been discovered on the moon that we don’t have on earth:

And, as my post on the dust fountains suggests, there are still things to be learned on the moon.

Heck, there are still things to be learned on the earth. Your post is roughly equivalent to saying “We already have a bag of rocks from South Africa. How can Hawaii be that different?”

It’s all a matter of ROI, Cal. We have already answered many basic and not-so-basic questions about the Moon. We’ve mapped it at high resolution in a wide band of spectra. We’ve measured it carefully in many ways. We even have a good measure of “ground truth” data, making it unique among our solar neighbors. I think explorers will still be finding new and startling things there a thousand years from now… but given our very limited exploration budget and much fresher and more potentially valuable targets (Mars, Europa, Titan) to explore, expending more time and money on limited-capability exploration of Luna isn’t our best road.

ETA: Besides, there is a good chance that humans will return in some short number of years and would accomplish everything a rover could do in years in a matter of days, and then much more.

The lunar surface and near subsurface offer an extremely good record of many aspects of solar weather and the near Earth space environment over the last several billion years that is not available by any other objects in the inner system. (Near Earth asteroids are also in the same regions, but do not have enough gravity to retain debris from impacts and predicting the history of their orbits past the few last million years is a roll of the dice.) The samples that were collected during the Apollo missions are about as useful at accurately representing the selenological history as a random sample of rocks collected by a third grade class on a field trip. Only the last mission had a trained geologist and the Apollo astronauts were notably ninterested in learning even the fundamentals of geology. There is also the question of the differences between near side and far side composition and the at the poles, all of which could be addressed by robotic probes for a small fraction of a single manned mission to one site.

However, Luna is not a sexy target, and when the Soviets avowed a disinterest in a manned mission (even while still feverantly trying to develop a vehicle capable of reaching the Moon), the US space program basically lost interest, and is has only been in about the last fifteen years that there has been sufficient interest to justify new science missions to Luna (and those at low cost using existing systems adapted for Lunar research such as Clemintine and LADEE).

The other problem–and one that may be a showstopper with regard to future human exploration) is the serious problem of Lunar dust. The tenuous atmosphere of the Moon is just enough to prevent dust (pulverized from regular impacts) from cementing to itself, and the constant bombardment by the charged solar wind with no atmospheric medium to conduct it makes the surface a giant, highly diffuse capacitor. The result of this is that the Lunar dust immediately and determinately sticks to any differentially charged surface, and rapidly jambs any unsealed joints or moving mechanisms as discovered during Apollo. It also sticks to suits and becomes airborne once astronauts have reentered a pressure environment; on the later missions astronauts complained of some degree of respirtory distress, and this is only after a few days on the Moon.

Without a means to control dust (and conventional measures such as vacuuming suits after a Moonwalk were almost completely ineffectual) is just may not be viable to maintain a manned presence or even have extended manned missions to the Moon, and we may be limited to expendable robotic missions with whatever protective provisions we can develop.