Off-World Mining

 

When I hear the words "mining asteroids" an image of Bruce Willis sacrificing his life to save Grace and the rest of humanity immediately comes to mind. In the 1998 movie "Armageddon," an asteroid the size of Texas threatens to collide with Earth in less than a month so NASA recruits a team of deep-sea oil drillers to save the planet. Although the 1998 movie is science fiction, someday, perhaps 30 years from now, companies will be grabbing asteroids and mining them for precious minerals. Asteroids contain the same valuable minerals, from gold to platinum, from cobalt to indium, that space showered upon Earth billions of years ago. One sizeable asteroid can hold $20 trillion worth of minerals. On a smaller, more practical scale, Peter Diamandis estimates that a single 100-foot asteroid can contain as much as $50 billion of platinum. The good news is, we can exploit asteroids without damaging Earth’s environment, and the supply is endless. The bad news: asteroid mining will be enormously risky and expensive, at least in the beginning.

Space asteroids.jpg

To gain the promised prosperity, the exploration must be funded by society as a whole: through our government. The leading program, OSIRIS-Rex, a science-driven mission, was due for launch in 2016. The plan is to travel 300,000 miles to asteroid 101955 Bennu and bring back two kilograms (a little more than 4 pounds) for study; the round trip taking seven years. In short, we’ll get the first chunk of asteroid in 2023, at the cost of $800 million, rocket not included. The rocket itself will cost an additional $184 million. Spurred by President Obama, a more ambitious project has been proposed, to lasso an asteroid and bring it into orbit around the Moon for further study. Its cost of about $2 billion seems out of range to many members of Congress.

This is where government should come in. Long-term, high-risk ventures with an incalculable payoff are the work of a great nation. As a whole.

Launchpad

  1. What additional advantages do you foresee when it comes to off-world mining?

  2. What do you feel the greatest concerns should be?

  3. What career paths would play a part in such an endeavor, both on and off Earth?

 Image Credit: Planetary Resources

Image Credit: Planetary Resources