The Chinese Chang'e series is taking over the moon.  For lunch, NASA people in Florida are heading to bread lines, while meanwhile the Chinese are microwaving the entire moon for their own consumption.  Okay, I'll ditch the mixed jingoistic metaphors now and get to what really makes me hungry-- space exploration successes.

With 1 down, 1 flying, and several more coming, the Chang'e program is starting off with strong successes.  The Chang'E-1 mission mapped the entire moon in microwaves, with data presented at the European Planetary Sciences Congress conference last month (September 2010).
Radar observations of the Moon are unable to provide thermal information, and microwave observations taken from Earth cannot reach the far side of the moon. So Chang'E-1's (CE-1) orbit was conducted at an altitude of 200km (124 miles) and allowed it to observe every location of the moon with a nadir view and at high spatial resolution.
ChangE'1 microwave (temperature) map of the entire Moon
Around all that science-y stuff, though, is the fact that an active space program is engaged in systematic, funded exploration of the moon in a series of ever more complex missions.  Chang'E-2 launched Oct 1 (although its rocket's reentry rattled a few villages) and reaches the moon tomorrow to survey the moon and, in particular, scout out landing sites.  E'2 took just 5 days to reach the moon versus E'1's 13 day trip; they're getting faster.

And what's their ultimate goal?  Awesomeness, with extra awesome sauce: to land a person on the moon.
"The most fundamental task for human beings' space exploration is to research on human origins and find a way for mankind  to live and develop sustainably," said Qian Weiping, chief designer of  the Chang'e-2 mission's tracking and control system.
It seems there are 4 Chang'e missions in the works.  I would say their main competition is the Lunar X-Prize: $30 million to the first private company to land a robot on the moon.

We live in an age where multiple nations are fighting to conquer space, in peaceful competition, while a nascent commercial space flight industry tests whether to throw its hand into the game as well.  We already have all the knowledge from the 70s explorations and onward.  This new space race is no longer a question of technology, but of will power.  Space will belong to those who realize its  worth.


Launching Project Calliope, sponsored by Science 2.0, in 2011
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