Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mining in Space

I like it when reality even approaches the coolness of science fiction, so to hear of a Wahsington state company making plans to mine near-Earth asteroids for materials makes me a happy man.

Rather than wasting money by pursuing the Apollo 11 engines resting at the bottom of the sea (like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) the investors in this company hope to see a future when resources mined in space are used on Earth or in orbit for building everything from rocket fuel to space-whale-repelling battleships (of course, one of the investors is James Cameron, who seems bent on giving us vapid entertainment between trips to the deepest recesses of the ocean floor and the Titanic, so they’re not all innocent here).

In short, Planetary Resources hopes it will be in a crucial and lucrative position of not only boosting terrestrial industry, but also setting up a network of fuel depots that humanity will need to better explore the solar system and beyond.
"The Earth is feeling a resource pinch, and ultimately we will have the ability to turn that which is scarce into abundant," [Peter] Diamandis, who co-founded Planetary Resources with Anderson in 2009 but generally kept mum about the project until this month, said at a press event in Seattle on Tuesday.
"It can be done, and yes, it's very difficult ... but the returns economically and the benefit to humanity are extraordinary," added Diamandis, who also is chairman of the X Prize Foundation.
When I worked for the Post Register, I actually interviewed Diamandis for some story whose import and subject are completely lost to me now. Probably had something to do with the X Prize, though why a lowly reporter from a Podunk paper like ours was interviewing him I can’t remember. I’ll have to sort through my files to see if I can find the article. Nonetheless, it’s exciting to see people still doing that forward-thinking that characterized so much of the post-war era and that, in many ways, seems lacking today. When he talks of fuel stations scattered throughout the inner solar system, all I can conjure up is images of Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth, and how awesome it would be if science fiction could become science fact.

Near-Earth objects abound, but you have to wonder if they’ll come in the size these guys need to make their company viable. I find it hard to believe that objects as big as Eros have gone undetected in near-Earth orbit, so they’ll have to be contented with smaller pickings or go further afield. Given their moxie, I don’t see the latter bothering them all that much.

I just hope the scout satellites they're sending up aren't just MAMA in disguise.

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