People who know me know about my fondness for all things space-related. This began when I was very young, but no doubt was driven mostly by growing up in the first space age. Then falling into the happy circumstance of the college I was attending hiring as its president the Director of Program Planning for the Apollo program at Rockwell, and then that person, Dr. Ed Lindaman, becoming a futurist mentor, all combine to mean that, for me, space is always alluring.
So it was a thrilling 90-minutes yesterday to watch the online video feed of the coming out news conference of Planetary Resources. Few announcements of new ventures in recent memory have attracted such great attention. This is the company, of course, that intends to mine near earth asteroids for critical materials. There are millions of asteroids, and thousands of them come near earth; at current counts 1500 are as easy to reach as the moon. A single asteroid the size of a large conference room could hold enough platinum to be worth 20-50 billion dollars. Many contain water that can be turned into the most precious of space resources, fuel, and then used to create fueling stations in space, dropping the cost of space travel by orders of magnitude.
Asteroid mining has been a staple of science fiction, both print and film, and now some very serious people with very serious money think the time is right to start the venture. As the news conference was concluding I got a call to interview with ECT News Network. The reporter wanted to know if I think the prospects for asteroid mining are real.
My answer: the prospects are not only real, such an enterprise is inevitable. It is simply a matter of when the timing will be right in terms of matching technical ability, need, and capital availability. As company co-founder Peter Diamandis explained, Planetary Resources has concluded that five forces have converged: exponentially improving technologies, availability of commercial space launch, investors with adequate capital and vision, high need for critical resources, and alignment with NASA policy (as they will be a customer).
So, it looks likely that with the Shuttle program over, but private launch ready and projects like Planetary Resources becoming real enterprises, the next space age (is the second or third space age?) is underway.
Good news for the future and the imperative to become a space faring civilization. Good news too for the Seattle area where I live, on the verge of becoming the hub of this new era in aerospace.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist, author, speaker, consultant, Founder of Futurist.com, and founder and Curator of DoTheFuture.com. To arrange for a speech, workshop or consultation contact Futurist.com.