This afternoon, a group of billionaire entrepreneurs will announce their plan to mine asteroids for resources like fuel, platinum and gold. Stephen Fleming, who heads up Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute and is active in the "alternative space" industry, weighs in on this plan to turn the stuff of science fiction into reality.
Some of us grew up reading stories about asteroid mining. For a child born in the 1960s, as I was, it seemed obvious that we'd have routine access to space -- and profitable businesses mining resources from space -- by the year 2012.
It didn't work out that way, for a lot of reasons. But now, it's finally happening. Today, in Seattle, an investor group will be announcing the formation of a company, Planetary Resources, to take the first steps towards mining the sky.
First up will be an inventory of asteroids whose orbits make them easily accessible from Earth. But this is just a first step. Full implementation of their plan will take more than a decade, and will involve engineering advances in rocketry, robotics, deep-space operations and more. Fully exploiting the vision of off-planet resources will take more than a lifetime.
But what a vision! Endless streams of raw materials -- from the prosaic nickel-iron to the costly platinum-group metals -- endless clean solar energy, and endless living room for the human race to expand off-planet. And, as a side effect, creating technologies that will save the Earth from the inevitable dinosaur-killer asteroid that will head our way someday.
This could only happen in America. Governments are great at exploration, but exploitation and settlement are tasks for the private sector. Only America has a private sector big enough -- and individual capitalists ambitious enough -- to tackle a project of this scope. It's a wonderful century to be an American, and I can't wait to see these billionaires create a trillion dollars of value by looking straight up.
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