Most of the time when we think of asteroids, we think of big ba-da-booms, dinosaurs, and the end of life as we know it. Ah, sweet baby jesus, we’re all gonna diiiiiiiiieeee!! And for their life-ending potential (even if the chance is really low), asteroids definitely deserve a bit of “please don’t kill us, mister” respect. But there’s more to them than meets the eye. Yeah, sure, they could kill us, but they could also make life on Earth a lot more comfortable.
I’m talking, of course, about asteroid mining. Asteroid mining is exactly what it sounds like. We fly ships to space, land on asteroids, rip out their gizzards, stuff ’em in our cheeks, and scurry back to earth before they even realize that we just wanted them for their shinies. And they are filled with shinies. Sometimes in the literal sense – there are asteroids out there made out of pure metal.
Asteroid mining has appeared in science fiction for years. As early as the late 40s/ early 50s, the concept was gaining ground. Heinlein, Asimov, and Poul Anderson have all tried their hands at story lines involving it. We have known for years that asteroids would be a fantastic source of resources if we could get to them. And every year we get closer to making the transition of asteroid mining from science fiction to science fact.
We need it to become fact instead of fiction. Precious metals are getting more rare every day on earth. If we want to continue to get more of these metals we need to start looking outside earth. But it’s not metals, either. There is some indication that asteroids (like Ceres) may contain a sizable quantity of fresh water that’s in ice form. Given the rate at which human beings are polluting earth’s waters, this may a need rather than a want sooner than you might think.
There’s even a company that’s dedicated itself to beginning asteroid mining. Planetary Resources has worked with the US and Luxembourg regarding asteroids. In July 2015, the company launched a spacecraft to test the basic equipment and needs for asteroid mining. In November 2015, this resulted in the US passing a law that recognizing that people could claim ownership to what they mined from asteroids.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be keeping my eye on Planetary Resources and their moves in the years to come. But let’s hope this is not the first step towards some Leviathan Wakes belters getting screwed crap.