April 24, 2012

The Beginning of an Evil Scheme

Who wants space platinum? Well, I do. And I'm sure that there's a number of people who would like to have access to space resources like gold, water, and iridium for far more practical purposes. I just want a hunk of metal from space. Not a bit of metal launched into space, I want metal from space. Technically, all metal is from space and indeed is still in space, but dammit it's not the same!

Sorry. I just loves me some space. But happily, there are a passel of people getting together to make it easier for people to have access to rare materials not found on Earth that are necessary for our current and future technology, shiny things, and water (which can also be air and rocket fuel). Which is pretty sweet, and may well pay off in the end. A small asteroid could potentially contain billions of dollars worth of material, not even counting the water. Or the popplers!*

But how feasible, really, is such a crazy thing as mining an asteroid? Well, maybe not that crazy. First, did I mention the popplers? I mean billions? Second, it's not impossible. Now, in general, when someone says something like that you can start planning your shopping list in your head while helpfully nodding along. But in this case, there is no particular reason why we can't mine asteroids. It's just that we haven't done it yet. True, the technology isn't created yet that can do such a thing. Neither has transportation technology like on Star Trek. But for the latter, that's more a problem of basic physics and our lack of understanding of physics. But space mining? Well, we went to the Moon, Mars, and Venus. We've been to asteroids and other moons. So we already have pre-existing rocket technology that can get us to the destination. We've had telescopes for like what, a hundred years or something. And we can strip mine like anything.

Sounds nice and easy. But it ain't. First off, the tech doesn't exist. Even counting what I just said in the previous paragraph, it is going to take a lot of new hardware, a lot of new ways of thinking, in order to get a functioning space mining business off the ground. That's not to say it can't be done, especially seeing who's involved. But it will be difficult. Also, it will be expensive. Like, ridiculously expensive. Like, buy an island, blow it up, replace it with larger island, type of expensive. The people involved are billionaires, so they have that sort of cash. But they also ain't stupid. They are expecting this to work.

But what is going to work? Truthfully, I doubt that this particular venture will ever truly see fruition as envisioned. I don't doubt that we will one day see a congressional hearing on the appropriate way to levy space stuff. But that day is not today. However, I am quite excited by some of the other potential things going on with this. First off, they have to find the rocks. Which will require cheap and durable space telescopes, riding on the wings of dragons breath, or some similar poetic way to describe a rocket**. They will also have to actually go to and scout potential targets in order to determine their composition and suitability for mining. In other words, they will do what our collective governments should be doing: Identifying, studying and mitigating potentially life threatening asteroids.

This is my ultimate hope for the project. I want this to be the catalyst that not only raises awareness of such threats, but to also spur on governments to deal with them. Frankly, we are in an era when we can prevent our own demise, so long as we take the actions necessary to do so.

Oh, and here's some other stuff about this topic:
Bad Astronomy
Alan Boyle
Other Alan Boyle

* You didn't think chicken nuggets grew on trees did you?
** No, 'Giant Dong' is not poetic. This is a giant dong, and this is a rocket. Know the difference.