How can the U.S. and world economy be saved? Simple: mine asteroids.
That's the ambitious plan that motion picture producer-director, adventurer James Cameron and Internet search engine giant Google announced to a stunned media.
Details about the out-of-this-world venture by Planetary Resources, Inc. were fully revealed at a joint press conference held on Tuesday, April 24 at the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.
The bold and visionary enterprise envisions fleets of robot prospectors scouring asteroids that pass close to Earth's orbit. These scout-bots will analyze targeted asteroids for hidden riches. Asteroids can then be mined in-situ, broken up into manageable chunks and taken to orbiting space smelters, or towed by robotic space tugs into safe parking arbits around Earth for mining operations.
Touted as a revolutionary move towards a real space industry, according to the Telegraph, the press release claims the incredible plan could add "trillions of dollars to the global GDP."
Other than Cameron, the list of starry-eyed investors hopping aboard the commercial space exploitation plan include some of the world's wealthiest men such as Microsoft's Charles Simonyi. Ram Shriram and Larry Page—also executives at Google—are joined by several other notables.
According to Reuters, Ex-NASA Mars mission manager Eric Anderson and co-founder Peter Diamandis aggressively pushed the idea ahead. Diamandis promoted the space X-Prize, an idea borrowed from the pioneer days of aviation. The modern version awarded a $10 million prize to the company that successfully demonstrated a manned, resusable spacecraft. Such transportation is especially needed now that the United States government has mothballed the fleet of space shuttles.
The information provided in advance of the Seattle news conference revealed that another former NASA Mars mission manager, Chris Lewicki was named Planetary Resources's president and chief engineer. Founders Anderson and Diamandis will act as co-chairmen.
While the idea of mining asteroids is nothing new—science fiction has used it as the bases for stories since the 1930s—NASA never aggressively followed up on the technology arguing that it could cost tens of billions of dollars and their mission was not industrial, but scientific.
But with several nations proving over the past decade that rendezvousing with asteroids is achievable, the hardware is available and such an industry is viable.
Unlike the X-Prize, the prize for those that successfully mine asteroids will be hundreds of billions for each rock. Conceivably, the rare earths and metals contained in some asteroids might yield up to one trillion dollars.
Some minerals, like copper, are projected to run out in the future. Some asteroids are believed rich in copper as well as nickel, iron, zinc, silver, tin, indium, and even gold.
Space.com points out Planetary Resources will send robot prospectors to targeted asteroids near Earth. The robot craft will determine the amount of water and platinum-group metals the space rocks contain.
Resources are the key as well as the benefits of opening up industries in space as the press release emphasizes: "This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'"
Many 20th Century science fiction writers believed that corporations and trade would open up the solar system during the 21st and 22nd centuries and that will lead to colonization. Their skills at prognostication seem to have been validated.