As space colonization begins to look like more of a reality while finding new sources of mineral wealth on Earth increasingly resembles a fantasy, the private sector has set its sights on space–or more specifically on the Manhattan-sized hunks of rock and metal hurtling through space at 56,000 miles per hour–for future sources of fortune. More than 10,000 asteroids currently orbit the Earth, and three men believe they can extract and sell their components for an enormous profit.
Larry Page of Google, filmmaker James Cameron, and Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation make up this curious hodgepodge of rich white men, and in 2012 they founded a privately-traded company called Planetary Resources, which is the forerunner in the race to extract resources from asteroids.
Why asteroids? These massive celestial rocks can contain huge quantities of platinum and its sister metals, which are both rare and expensive on Earth. They also contain water and iron, which are hard to come by in space and serve multiple purposes in outer space endeavors (think radiation protection, fuel sources and sustaining human life). For an idea of just how much one asteroid can be worth, check out the chart below:
According to Chris Lewicki, President and “Chief Asteroid Miner” at Planetary Resources, asteroid mining would not only create trillionaires here on Earth, but it is also the first step toward exploring the final frontier. It’s also just smart business: if space exploration firms were able to mine for resources in space–as opposed to having them shipped via rockets–they would save millions.
They’d also save a lot of time. Having mining spots in space would allow astronauts to travel farther and faster, and mean that space colonies could theoretically become self sufficient. “Resources have allowed us to move into every frontier on planet Earth,” said Lewicki earlier this year. “If we can find the same opportunity in space, we will find an economic engine to fund the exploration of space.”