Space Mining: The New Frontier

An artist’s rendition of an asteroid being mined for precious metals by a solar-power satellite. (NASA).

If you follow politics, or at least the President, then you will no doubt recall during a statement about the NASA budget some words from Mr. Obama regarding an intangible concept known as ‘Asteroid Mining‘. Since not much else was said during this release other than this mining practice will be the focus of future space development rather than NASA‘s approach to explore space, it’s easy to throw such a concept aside; the concept is for those space nerds and science fiction geeks but it’s viewed as having little to no actual impact on the life of individuals.

In reality, Asteroid Mining is already set to begin its first leg of trial and error within 18 months. Calls are being made for high-scorers in STEM programs who love space so as to aid in the preparations for exploratory missions. Soon, blue-collar workers will be needed to excavate minerals. Before going further, analysis must be done for safety of workers and the purpose of asteroid mining. Why do we need it? What brought such an intangible thing into the media spotlight?

This planet, as is known to most, cannot sustain indefinitely a species that reproduces exponentially with our current conventional lifestyle.  Energy, commerce and economies all depend on finite resources to operate. If things were limitless their value would plummet – and that, in turn, affects markets. It is the belief of some that certain things should be endless in their production for the benefit of mankind such as the environment, energy, healthcare, etc.  This graphic addresses the reasons we as a species need to mine asteroids. Electronic devices run on platinum, which is said to be more rare than gold in the very near future; in order to technologically advance, we need significantly more of it. Diamonds are also another resource accessible in space.

Currently, scientists have found that mining in space is safer and can be done with more ease than ocean mining. With horrific memories of the scenes revolving around BP, Exxon-Valdese, Chevron, and others’ blunders when drilling the ocean for oil, this cannot come as a surprise. Yes, the concept is still very foreign that going to space for ‘rocks’ is a better alternative than searching here on Earth but, for now at least, this seems to be the best course of action.

However, this brings up exactly why it will be more safe to go to space than plunder ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’. It also raises questions about how companies will ensure that safety once in space, miles away from any regulating body. Exactly how viable, how profitable, or specifics in general have yet to be disclosed. There is a general consensus on how to go about excavating in space, but any sort of procedural timeline or much information period outside of who is bankrolling this type of operation and under what name can be found. On its face, it seems like a bunch of billionaires playing at childhood dreams.

This is not what our species deserves. What we do deserve is to ensure capitalism never trumps human life. What humans deserve is the courtesy of full disclosure when being prompted or offered work, especially work that can be lucrative enough to tempt one out of mental clarity and into the fog of temptation.

Yes, this is a new enterprise that will go down in the history books if done right. Yes, this has the promise of the biggest monopoly in economic history, assuming one company can manage to stave off competitors; it wouldn’t be hard, with the amount of money and hardware needed to transform this dream to reality. But it is because of these things that we need oversight from a non-partisan group. NASA should have the front line on this one.  It has been written previously here as to what a proper and healthy space program should look like; Planetary Resources Inc., is the exact opposite of that vision. One company, racing to be first for country and science, when men are much simpler than that. Instead it will be for prestige, ego, and money. Maybe there are certain sacrifices needed for advancement, especially on such a large scale. But what happened to delayed gratification?  What happened to expertise and experience leading the way rather than courage or bravery? I hope that I am wrong. I believe we do need this advancement and can see the peripheral benefits. Simultaneously, it is a strong apprehension that resides deep in me about the way this potential field is being expedited.


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