If the future of space exploration requires an economic incentive, look no further than asteroid mining. All the rare and valuable minerals and metals contained in a single asteroid (except those lousy S-type asteroids) could be worth billions.
But catching an asteroid and landing on it for mining purposes… that’s much easier said than done. You see, no two asteroids are exactly alike, and they each present a host of challenges for asteroid hunters of the future.
There are several ideas for how to catch an asteroid. You could throw a net around it, assuming the asteroid isn’t too big. Or you could latch on with magnets, assuming the asteroid has a high enough metal content.
But the most common idea that I’ve seen is the shoot the asteroid with a harpoon. It makes the whole endeavor feel oddly reminiscent of old timey whaling. You know, like in Moby Dick. Or Star Trek IV.
As I understand it, the harpoon has a cable attached, so once you’ve harpooned yourself an asteroid you can reel your spacecraft in to a secure landing. Or in the case of those wildly spinning asteroids, the asteroid will reel you in by wrapping the cable around itself (what could go wrong?).
So the next time you’re in space trying to grab billions of dollars worth of asteroid, remember to bring a harpoon. And a really strong cable.
P.S.: Also, if an asteroid somehow manages to bite off your leg, maybe it’s best to let it go. As Mission Commander Ahab will tell you, vendettas against whales and asteroids never lead to happy endings.