Al Gore, in an interview at the NY 92nd Street YMCA: “There’s never been a time in human history when we’ve had so many truly revolutionary changes going on simultaneously.”
C-3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one.
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds.
Sometimes, the world just hangs tight for a period of time and we forget how quickly everything we assume about the future can be changed. I had one of those moments recently, when I read about the two asteroid mining startups that launched in the past year.
On the face of it, this sounds like one of those outlandish proposals made way-ahead of schedule, where no serious money is being put into implementing such a scheme. Only, there is serious money being put into implementing this scheme. And upon closer inspection, the scheme is looking like a real business opportunity.
And if it pans out, in ten years, a serious space age economy will be underway.
Here it is in a nutshell:
- There are trillions of dollars in recoverable materials in near-Earth asteroids that can be recovered with available technology at a cost less than that of the value of those materials.
- There is actually frozen water and other materials that can be extracted from asteroids to sell to other space customers (NASA, ESA, SpaceX, etc.)
- Space-recovered resources are far cheaper than earth-based resources, which translates into a potential space-boom economy that asteroid mining would form the basis for
Companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources are eyeing this opportunity with space-based, laser beam intensity. If they are right (and why not), then they will jumpstart human expansion into space in as little as a decade or two.
Consider this scenario: The first successful asteroid mine recovers billions of dollars in precious metals, rare-earth materials and water by 2023. This hollowed out asteroid is then available to build a space station within, with lots of fuel (made from the hydrogen and oxygen in the asteroid’s water) to use for whatever mission its owner wants: perhaps a resource recovery exploration of the asteroid belt? a mission to Mars? or a tourist trap 100,000 miles above Earth.
Seriously, this is tantalizing. Consider how much cheaper spaceflight would be if you only needed to get people and food up in orbit, rather than all those heavy fuel tanks current Earth-based missions require.
As Al Gore is now currently noting on his latest book tour, things are changing quick. He is noting the convergence of multiple, massive changes being foisted on society, including advances in genetics, continuing impacts of Internet communications, shifting centers of geopolitical and commercial power and, of course, how all of this is brushing up against a resource-crunch that economic growth and climate change are causing.
Gore is one of those people who thinks we do pretty well in a crisis. Faced with the kinds of challenges unfolding around the world, he expects us to put the electric-pedal to the carbon-fiber frame and start solving problems at a fever pitch.
So perhaps this will be a pretty amazing decade, climate change and ESKAPE pathogens be damned. Perhaps we will suddenly have space-stations galore in 20 years time. Perhaps we might even have a breakthrough in space-elevator design. Perhaps traveling between stars won’t be so ridiculous anymore. Perhaps everyone will have a monolith in their dining room.
Might even resemble the future you dreamed of when you were 10. Get ready for takeoff!