A Russian news source, RIA NOVOSTI, announced on Thursday that Russia plans to colonize the moon and will start to build a permanent base there. The plan is to complete the base by the year 2030 and to start mineral extraction from the moon by mid century.
The moon may be a source of rare earth elements, some with strange names like europium and tantalum, that a report by the Congressional Research Service says are important in national security applications and in new technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and hybrid cars. Carle Pieters, a planetary scientist at Brown University is reported to have said, "Yes we know there are concentrations of REE [rare earth elements] on the moon" He says the evidence is from samples from United States lunar missions.
The United States is the only country that has landed a man on the moon. It has done so six times between 1969 and 1972. Why not go back? Why leave it to the Russians, or the Chinese? United States space policy expert John Logsdon says in response to a question by Can Vergano for a National Geographic report, "The short answer is that there was no compelling scientific reason to go back to the moon." But aside from the scientific, what about the economics of moon colonization? Could the return from establishing a moon colony for extracting minerals and other resources from the moon be worth the costs? It is a question asked but not answered in the same article that quotes Pieters.
With the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, the United States manned space program has been on indefinite suspension, and we may never know if a viable program for mining the moon is feasible, at least until the Russians give us an answer. The decision to phase out the manned space program was made in the Bush administration, and the phase out continued and the program ended under Obama. The budget for space exploration has been under pressure of cuts supported by both the Obama administration and by Congressional Republicans.
Current United States policy is to shift manned space vehicles to the private sector. One of the first uses of space by private sector companies will apparently be the development of space tourism. One report says that prospective flights for tourists on a space flight can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it may not be long before they may come down to just under $95,000. However, if you want to book now, it will cost $250,000 up front for a future flight at Virgin Galactic. At those prices, there can't be many Americans that will be able to take advantage of the opportunity, even in this day of the super rich getting richer.
So while Russia plans to colonize the moon, Obama ends the United States moon program and is content to encourage the private sector to plan for space tourism.