Asteroids - a new El Dorado in space?
NASA identifies asteroids as "small, rocky objects that orbit the Sun." They are space rocks, devoid of living things. Though defined as "small," there are massive asteroids that are planetoids in size.
Many people think that a stray asteroid might one day destroy the planet. This sentiment is mainly due to the film "Armageddon" and the infamous 1908 meteor explosion over Siberia - which flattened 80 million trees. However, there is reason to believe that asteroids might potentially save humanity one day soon. Asteroids could be a new source of precious metals and other natural resources.
Though asteroids are millions of miles away, we can study them via the many meteorites that have landed on Earth. Meteorites are solid pieces of small space debris from asteroids, planets, and comets that have fallen out of their orbit and into our atmosphere. Metallic iron, nickel, cobalt, platinum, and other similar materials make up meteorites. There have also been trace amounts of diamond, gold, hydrogen, water, and carbon found in meteorites. If their fragments are rich in these elements, imagine how much is actually within actual asteroids.
One of the most pressing problems humanity is facing today is our rapidly dwindling supply of minerals - amongst many other natural resources. With almost eight billion people on the planet, "cutting back" might be hard to achieve. We need to find other sources very soon to ensure our survival. One of the more (literally) out-of-this-world alternatives is to exploit the resources within asteroids.
Of course, going out into space and bringing back an asteroid to open up on Earth will be tough. Extracting its resources out in space, packaging, and sending them back down to our planet is the more practical way of collecting asteroid materials. Yes, space mining, once the stuff of science fiction novels and Star Trek episodes, is now within sight and may soon become a reality.
Asteroid space mining is now in the limelight. The only players planning public exploration and discovery missions used to be NASA and the Russian Space Agency, but today the world is witnessing significant growth in the space industry. Visionary business people, powerful corporations, and certain countries have realized there are profits to be made.
These groups are studying the feasibility of mining them for their minerals. They are making plans to stake their claim. While it might take up to the next 50 to 100 years the philosophy is that the early bird catches the worm. They have already invested billions of dollars in future exploratory missions by companies such as The Asteroid Mining Corporation.
There is no question if humanity can make this happen it's just a matter of when. It points to an exciting future and serves as a statement on our default tendency to exploit our environment.