One of the greatest concerns of our time lies in the fact that the resources of our planet are quickly getting depleted. Nonetheless, the ingenuity of human race lies in pulling off the impossible, which is probably a perfect way to introduce the next NASA’s plan. The asteroid known as 16 Psyche is a planetoid that is completely made out of nickel-iron. This sheer amount of the iron in this asteroid is estimated to be worth about $10,000 quadrillion here on Earth.
For comparison’s sake, the entire economy of planet Earth amounts to about $78 trillion. Because of this, exploiting the asteroid in its entirety (if it were physically possible), would cause an economic impact, which would (metaphorically) not be unlike that of 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs. Here are few things you need to learn about this NASA’s bold idea, the difficulties it would encounter as well as some tech innovations that would help overcome them.
Is space mining even possible?
Sure, everyone can see this trend hitting off somewhere in the distant future, but what about today? Do we have a technology to start off an interplanetary mining facility, even in our nearest surrounding? The first thing we would need here is to make sure this facility is self-sustaining. Sure, the mined material would have to be shipped back to earth, but commuting to this off-world mine for maintenance and regular repairs definitely wouldn’t be cost-effective.
However, according to the professor Dr. Phil Metzger, the greatest problem isn’t the lack of technological capability or the lack of funding. The trick here lies in persuading people that space mining is a viable solution at this moment. One of the reasons behind this is a fact that most people believe this would require some astronomical investments when this could (hypothetically) be achieved for as little as 3 percent of NASA’s current budget and at a current technological development level.
Closer to home
In order to sway public opinion a bit, it might be a smart idea to start a bit closer to home, seeing how nothing can be as persuasive as a live demonstration. We are of course talking about mining the moon. Our planet’s only satellite is rich in elements such as carbon, silicon, hydrogen and a wide array of metals, which could all make a huge difference here on Earth. The best of all is that most of this could be pulled off with no more than 12 tons of initial material from Earth. The rest would be expanded by using local resources through a method known to scientists as Self-sufficient Replicating Space Industry or the SRSI.
Where are we now?
So, are we actually doing it? Well, NASA hopes to begin doing this in five years’ time (by 2022). But what will this mean for the global economy? Actually, some countries are already starting to plan in this direction.
Take for example Luxemburg, which has already set aside $223 million for this noble cause. You see, due to their tiny territory, they don’t have the abundance of natural resources they could exploit here on Earth. Nonetheless, the fact that they have already started allocating funds for this cause (and that they are an incredibly high GDP country) gives them quite the head start in this space-mining-race. In truth, their recent aim is to become one of the top 10 space mining nations in the world, which doesn’t seem at all impossible. Still, the money alone won’t be enough and they have a hard job of passing necessary regulations, as well as influencing the public opinion back home, ahead of them.
While some people may see this as nothing more than a chance to make some more money, there is more to it than this. You see, finding a way to make a self-sustainable mining operation (on the Moon or 16 Psyche) would definitely be the first major milestone towards interplanetary colonization. Transporting this huge amount of material to an object out there in space and then exploiting local resources to expand it could, therefore, serve as a model for establishing human colonies in the future.
Finally, this could in time become a key towards the salvation of our planet, seeing how we would in time fully start to exploit other (uninhabited worlds) in order to save (or even spare) our own. The future of human species haven’t looked so bright in decades. Still, like so many times in the past, one of the greatest efforts in human history will be motivated by greed.