You can’t accuse James Cameron of ever thinking small. Not content with reaching the bottom of the Marianas Trench last month, the Avatar director is now, along with Google Inc executive Eric Schmidt, planning to fund a venture to survey and eventually extract precious metals and rare minerals from asteroids in orbit near Earth. The science fiction-like mission will be headed by Washington-based Planetary Resources, Inc., who plan to explore Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials ranging from water to precious metals and then extract them.
Using cost-effective exploration technologies, the company is poised to initiate prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible. It is hoped that the materials mined from these asteroids will deliver multiple benefits to humanity (as well as tens of billions of dollars annually to the company).
Now why is this a green issue? Well, currently precious metals are mined all over the planet scarring the landscape and exploiting poorer countries that are rich in such minerals. However it is believed that a single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid could contain the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history.
“Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications,” said Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
The missions are also expected to serve as “stepping stones” for deep space exploration, providing space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots. Also, being able to access water resources in space will revolutionize exploration and make space travel dramatically more economical.
Of the approximately 9,000 known NEAs, there are more than 1,500 that are as easy to reach as the Moon. Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, said “Our mission is not only to expand the world’s resource base, but we want to increase people’s access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems.”
Other investors in the scheme include Google CEO Larry Page and Ross Perot, Jr., Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group, who are committed to expanding the world’s resource base so that humanity can continue to grow and prosper.