You can try:
Reinstall OS X without erasing the drive
Do the following:
1. Repair the Hard Drive and Permissions
Boot from your Snow Leopard Installer disc. After the installer loads select your language and click on the Continue button. When the menu bar appears select Disk Utility from the Utilities menu. After DU loads select your hard drive entry (mfgr.'s ID and drive size) from the the left side list. In the DU status area you will see an entry for the S.M.A.R.T. status of the hard drive. If it does not say "Verified" then the hard drive is failing or failed. (SMART status is not reported on external Firewire or USB drives.) If the drive is "Verified" then select your OS X volume from the list on the left (sub-entry below the drive entry,) click on the First Aid tab, then click on the Repair Disk button. If DU reports any errors that have been fixed, then re-run Repair Disk until no errors are reported. If no errors are reported click on the Repair Permissions button. Wait until the operation completes, then quit DU and return to the installer.
If DU reports errors it cannot fix, then you will need Disk Warrior and/or Tech Tool Pro to repair the drive. If you don't have either of them or if neither of them can fix the drive, then you will need to reformat the drive and reinstall OS X.
2. Reinstall Snow Leopard
If the drive is OK then quit DU and return to the installer. Proceed with reinstalling OS X. Note that the Snow Leopard installer will not erase your drive or disturb your files. After installing a fresh copy of OS X the installer will move your Home folder, third-party applications, support items, and network preferences into the newly installed system.
Download and install the Combo Updater for the version you prefer from support.apple.com/downloads/.
I also have the same problem with my friends 2009 Macbook Core 2 Duo that he asked me to take a look at. In addition to the above I've tried accessing the drive through an external enclosure with no luck. However, I can access and boot from that same drive on a different laptop. I'm assuming I've got a hardware problem somewhere. Would anyone be able to recommend next steps for me? What components might be the most likely culprits for this scenerio? Are there other tests we might be missing?