Is space mining really going to be reality soon?
If you are a fan of science fiction, as I have been over the years, you will recognize that a common theme of the genre is mining of precious metals and other materials on faraway planets.
Well, is fiction going to soon become nonfiction?
Mining has often been the genesis for movement into remote and unexplored areas, both in the past as was the case in our own area during the expansion into the West, and today when difficult and sometimes dangerous exploration takes place in the search for valuable resources.
But the idea of mining precious metals in space trumps even the most difficult ventures here on Earth.
Yet, that is what a consortium is proposing to do within a decade. Is it really possible?
Well, according to an Associated Press report, some well-known and wealthy entrepreneurs have so much confidence in the idea they are willing to put their money behind the project with the formation of a company called Planetary Resources Inc.
The company announced this week it would use robots to mine comparative nearby asteroids. These large space “rocks” are believed to be rich sources of metals and perhaps other materials of value.
Peter Diamandis, one of the company's founders, said the goal is “to make the resources of space available to humanity.” He could have added that another goal of the private investors is to profit from the venture.
The reality is that the desire for profit and wealth nearly always drives successful efforts to exploit high technology. The fact that those who are behind this venture have already done that in other areas is a good sign it may succeed.
The metals mined from the asteroids had better be precious because it will be an enormously expensive and risky venture, one reason skeptics are questioning its viability, at least in the near future. They also point out that some of the technology to do this does not yet exist.
Skepticism regarding this type of farsighted venture is not unusual. People didn't believe in human flight either, but it has transformed the world within a relatively brief span of time. Some of those involved in this venture also have been engaged in the effort to create space tourism, a venture that is on track to become a reality very soon.
The key to making the asteroids venture cost-effective, say the entrepreneurs, will likely be the ability to find and mine water from the asteroids that can be broken down and used to manufacture rocket fuel to power the spacecraft used to go to the asteroids and return the mined metals.
The first step will be to send out exploratory telescopes within two years to find likely asteroids to exploit.
Has the time come for space mining? I don't know, but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.
The drive to do new things and profit from them are the very foundations of private enterprise.
Mining the asteroids is risky and audacious. It is a wonderful thing to see humankind once again standing on the edge of a great adventure. We need it to renew the vitality of our society.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. E-mail: email@example.com. Telephone: 539-6870. Facebook: facebook.com/YSTerryRoss. Twitter: twitter.com/@YSTerryRoss.