Thinking Tech

Is it time to start mining asteroids?

Is it time to start mining asteroids?

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Filmmaker James Cameron is backing a space technologies firm that will "create a new industry and a new definition of natural resources."

Box office darling Michael Bay will always be known for popularizing the concept of asteroid digging, but it may be another famous movie director who may someday get credit for helping to pull it off in real life.

Filmmaker James Cameron, along with a group of industry big wigs that include former Presidential Candidate Ross Perot and Google co-founder Larry Page, are backing a newly launched space technologies firm called Planetary Resources, Inc. While the parties involved haven't released any specific details about the venture, a press release sent to tech news site Technology Review hints at the possibility of asteroid mining, a far out idea that's been floated around the space community for decades.

Here's the part that's sending many in the media into a tizzy:

...the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

Although all of this is puely speculation at this point, the notion of asteroids being worth trillions of dollars is hardly an exaggeration. In his book "Mining The Sky: Untold Riches From The Asteroids, Comets, And Planets," Astronomer John S. Lewis postulated that a relatively small metallic asteroid with a diameter of one mile contained more than $20 trillion worth of industrial and precious metals. These include essential metals such as gold, iron, nickel, platinum and tungsten -- all of which have become crucial for economic and technological advancement. In fact, the earth's supply of important elements had come originally from the asteroid hailstorm that pelted the Earth after the crust cooled.

So when you really think about it, many of the planets and bodies are, in a way, celestial gold mines. Governments understand that, which is why China has put into motion plans to eventually mine the moon for Helium-3, a potentially valuable fuel source for future nuclear fusion plants. Helium-3 is rare on earth, but can be found in plentiful quantities within the moon's crust.

Russia, however, is also thinking the same thing and has its own designs on setting up a lunar mining base by the year 2020. Meanwhile, budget cuts have forced NASA to scale back on its spaceflight program, which means it may be up to bold visionaries in America's private sector to sieze on the potential of this new frontier.

More information will be revealed at a news conference to be held on Tuesday. So stay tuned.

Here's the press release:

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 18, 2012

*** Media Alert *** Media Alert *** Media Alert ***

Space Exploration Company to Expand Earth's Resource Base

WHAT: Join visionary Peter H. Diamandis, M.D.; leading commercial space entrepreneur Eric Anderson; former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki; and planetary scientist & veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones, Ph.D. on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT in Seattle, or via webcast, as they unveil a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity's prosperity.

Supported by an impressive investor and advisor group, including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ph.D.; film maker & explorer James Cameron; Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi, Ph.D.; Founder of Sherpalo and Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram; and Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr., the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

The news conference will be held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT and available online via webcast.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 24

10:30 a.m. PDT

WHO: Charles Simonyi, Ph.D., Space Tourist, Planetary Resources, Inc. Investor

Eric Anderson, Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Chris Lewicki, President & Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Tom Jones, Ph.D., Planetary Scientist, Veteran NASA Astronaut & Planetary Resources, Inc. Advisor

WHERE: Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at The Museum of Flight

9404 East Marginal Way South

Seattle, WA 98108

Event will also be streamed online.

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure