Some people look into the night sky and see stars or try to identify planets. Others look up there and see dollar signs. Lots of dollar signs. Enough to change the economics of our whole planet.
According to a report from Gizmodo (click here to read it), a group of wealthy investors have teamed up to start a new company called Planetary Resources. Their goal is to build spaceships, fly them into Earth orbit, and grab some passing asteroids.
We generally think of asteroids as big space potatoes. In the famous asteroid field scene in The Empire Strikes Back, some of those asteroids actually are potatoes. Every once in awhile, we hear about one coming dangerously close to Earth, and we know from Armageddon that a large enough asteroids could wipe out all life on this planet.
What we don’t generally talk about are the material resources asteroids contain. A company that successfully captures an asteroid could harvest it for metals that are rare on Earth but essential for our fancy electronic devices. According to Gizmodo, a single asteroid could be worth billions of dollars.
In these times of economic trouble, it’s hard to justify the expense of space travel. It costs millions to send people into space, but that doesn’t sound so bad when you expect billions in profits. And adding all those extra resources to the global economy could end this recession for good.
Science fiction has already anticipated this situation. Ben Bova’s Asteroid Wars series, which is part of his larger, Grand Tour of the Solar System series, tells the story of greedy corporations fighting over control of the Solar System’s resources. While catching and mining asteroids is exciting and could save our economy, hopefully we won’t let things turn as violent as Ben Bova’s novels predict.