The space start up Planetary Resources made headlines last month when it announced its intention to mine asteroids for water and precious metals. But a closer target–the moon–has been the focus of another space mining company, named MoonEx, for years. The Google Lunar X Prize contender is currently developing a lunar landing system for NASA which could launch as early as 2014. While mining asteroids is perhaps the bolder vision, mining the moon in the meantime makes good sense because of its proximity, shorter time horizon and the availability of current technology.
What’s the Big Idea?
The promise of near-infinite mineral resources in space promises to alleviate long-term concerns over our planet’s resource scarcity. Proponents of asteroid mining say that harvesting water from space rocks could hydrate humans in base-based living quarters and help create an interplanetary fuel chain by using water’s hydrogen to propel ships. Whatever happens, the business equation for space-based enterprises is set to move away from measuring space technology spinoffs, such as Velcro shoes, to creating entirely new and self-sustaining economies.