The project aims to start mining asteroids within 10 years
Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltec via Getty Images.
The entrepreneurs behind commercial space flights announced on Tuesday a new futuristic venture: cultivating gold, silver, and other resources from the thousands of asteroids that continuously zip around Earth.
The Associated Press reports that the project’s goal is to have robots aboard spacecraft begin extracting materials from asteroids within a decade. The first step is to launch satellites to identify viable asteroids, which could happen within two years. Calling the effort "glamorous," Peter Diamandis, a co-founder of the company behind the plans, said the eventual dream is "to make the resources of space available to humanity."
If the venture sounds like something out of a movie, it makes sense that James Cameron, the Avatar and Titanic director, is an adviser. (Cameron recently made news of his own with his descent into the Mariana Trench in a vessel he designed himself.) The project also counts the support of Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, two top Google executives.
Skepticism was immediate, since the plans rely on new technologies not yet invented and appear prohibitively expensive. The AP notes that a NASA mission to return just 2 ounces of asteroid material will cost $1 billion. But Eric Anderson, another co-founder of the company, dismissed the naysayers. "Before we started launching people into space as private citizens, people thought that was a pie-in-the-sky idea," he told reporters.
The Washington Post has a nice breakdown of another precious resource the project seeks: water, which is extremely expensive to launch into space but it’s essential to space travel. Extracting it from asteroids could reduce the the cost to one-tenth or one-twentieth the current price, the project's managers said.