The Korean Herald reported on Sunday that the South Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning has started a lunar exploration program, allocating funding to place a probe In orbit around the moon and a small lander and rover on the surface of the moon by 2020. At the same time, the United States and the government of South Korea have made a space cooperation agreement, fueling speculation that NASA will participate in the South Korean moon shot.
South Korea has only managed to place a satellite into orbit in 2013, so a moon shot using mostly Korean technology and resources is an ambitious project. The rover is intended to prospect for rare minerals, aligning the South Korean lunar exploration program with the desire by a number of countries and private businesses to mine the moon.
South Korea is just the latest country with lunar ambitions. China landed the Chang’e 3 and the Yutu rover on the lunar surface a couple of years ago. Russia, India, and the European Union all have aspirations to eventually land human explorers on the lunar surface, something that has not happened since the mission of Apollo 17 in 1972. The Google Lunar X Prize competition has a number of private groups from around the world vying to land on the moon by the end of 2017.
The odd man out, ironically, is NASA, which has foresworn the moon, thanks to a directive by President Barack Obama. However, increasing discontent over this decision in Congress, the scientific community, and private business point the way to this decision being reversed in the next administration.