How Asteroid Mining Will Propel Space Colonization
While talk of mining near-Earth asteroids has concentrated on metals like gold and platinum, the real treasure may be mining water and using its hydrogen to propel ambitious space missions.
What's the Latest Development?
A collection of A-list billionaires have announced their intention to begin exploiting the mineral resources of outer space by mining near-Earth asteroids. Planetary Resources, the company charged with organizing the mission, will be backed by tycoons from Google, Microsoft and Dell, and will be advised by film director James Cameron as well as ex-NASA employees. Though the project entails steep initial investment with distant prospects of financial return, precious resources like gold and platinum, which are found in plentiful amounts in many asteroids, could eventually help the project pay for itself.
What's the Big Idea?
More important than precious metals, however, may be the asteroids' supplies of water. Mining such a crucial resource beyond the gravity well of Earth, and splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen, could go a long way toward establishing a space-based settlement plan. Beyond the possibility of storing drinking water and breathable oxygen, hydrogen could provide fuel for space craft parked in low-Earth orbit. What's more, hydrogen fueling stations could be created and distributed so that missions could pack light, refueling on the way (to Mars), enabling life to expand its reach beyond our planet.
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