Will Asteroid Mining Produce Viable Results?

Large planetoid in empty space

Planetary Resources, Inc., a company that is backed by several major players, announced plans today for a deep space mining operation. Although all of the details are not currently known, early leaked information suggests that the founders and backers of Planetary Resources are committed to developing and deploying a group of mining astronauts to various asteroids in the hopes of extracting valuable metals and other natural resources.

The names attached to the project represent a diverse mixture of visionaries. The founders are Peter Diamandis, the CEO and Chairman of X Prize Foundation, and Eric Anderson, the Co-Founder and Chairman of Space Adventures. Backers include filmmaker James Cameron, Google co-founders Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, billionaire Ross Perot, Jr. and ex-Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi.

The exact reason each of the founders and backers was drawn to this project may never be revealed, but the fact that James Cameron is on the list leads to some interesting speculation. Cameron is well known for his propensity for documentary filmmaking, especially of places that are difficult to reach. Even if Planetary Resources fails in their mining mission, the potential for a new and previously unrivaled batch of footage from outer space is high.

Critics are already raising their voices about this proposed venture, even though all of the details have not yet been made publicly available. The most prevalent complaint is over a perceived lack of ability for Planetary Resources to actually train and launch astronauts into outer space. NASA experts have provided a projected cost and time table for accomplishing such a feat, and it comes at the staggering cost of well over ten billion dollars and at least a decade of planning and training.

These doubts do not seem to have had an impact on the founders and backers of Planetary Resources, however, as their website is still promising to be fully launched on April 24, 2012, with all of the details about their stated mission to “revolutionize current space exploration and help ensure humanity’s prosperity for generations to come.”

If Planetary Resources is successful in their asteroid mining attempt, then they could potentially provide a very viable new resource for obtaining nickel, iron and other essential minerals. The risk and expense associated with undertaking such an attempt, however, may not prove to be worthwhile. It is only through exploring the possibility, though, that we can learn if outer space can provide us with a reliable backup resource for the minerals that are essential for daily life.

It is not a secret that mankind has been plundering the Earth for a really long time; at some point, we will have diminished the Earth’s capacity for natural resources to a point where we are forced to find an alternative or drastically alter the way that we live. Planetary Resources may or may not prove to be an answer to this issue, but they are definitely paving the way for other visionaries to move forward with similar private ventures.

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Category: Space

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