If you think this is a review of the latest summer movie or a new HBO drama about an alien invasion, think again. Life is once again proving to be stranger than science fiction as Washington-based Planetary Resources, announced its plans to start mining asteroids in as little as five years.
Between an asteroid and a hard place
You would be forgiven for thinking this a rather elaborate plot for a movie, especially when famous director James Cameron is one of Planetary Resources’ biggest stake holders. But with the help of Google CEO, Larry Page and substantial financial backing, Planetary Resources’ plans to mine asteroids have already been set in motion. In two years time, rockets with space telescopes will begin to investigate the mineral composition of asteroids near the earth. Robotic probes will be sent out to measure the mineral composition of viable asteroids to pick the ones that will be mined, with priority given to those rich in platinum.
According to a NASA study, an asteroid 7 meters in diameter and weighing 500 tons contains as much gold, platinum and rare metals as is mined on Earth in an entire year. This makes the project viable and means that Planetary Resources can make a fortune mining asteroids in outer space. Heavy equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar, has already begun research into heavy machinery that will be capable of mining the asteroids. “We looked at autonomous operations of equipment as being the same type of technology that could be used on the moon as well as in a mining application,” said Michele Blubaugh, manager of Intelligence Technology Services at Caterpillar.
Mining will be conducted without the help of human astronauts or miners, and promises to be safer than conventional mining methods and far less damaging to the environment. Unless, as some people fear, pulling the asteroids closer to the earth will cause them to crash into the earth’s surface.