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Out of This World


Last century, back when 1999 was about to morph into 2000, I wrote a feature story about mining for minerals on the moon. It seemed like an idea that had possibilities, and plans for such an endeavor were being promoted by astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the last man to set foot on the moon. Schmitt is still at it, but he now focuses on mining for the helium-3 isotope.

So it was with much interest that I heard about a company called Planetary Resources Inc. and its plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. Through the development of cost-effective exploration technologies, the company is proposing prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible.

Resource extraction from asteroids will deliver multiple benefits to humanity and grow to be valued at tens of billions of dollars annually. The effort will tap into the high concentration of precious metals found on asteroids and provide a sustainable supply to the ever-growing population on Earth, the company says.

A single 500-m platinum-rich asteroid contains 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.

Of the approximately 9,000 known NEAs, there are more than 1,500 that are reportedly as easy to reach as the moon, according to Planetary Resources. To that end, the company has developed the first line in its family of deep-space prospecting spacecraft, the Arkyd-100 Series.

There is some big money behind the company, including Google CEO Larry Page and Ross Perot Jr., chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group. Filmmaker and explorer James Cameron is an advisor, which is ironic, as his movie Avatar was in part about the disastrous effects of mining on another planet.

I’m all for mining on the moon, asteroids or whatever planets might be reachable. I only wish they could include aggregates in the plan. A permit would certainly be much easier to obtain.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor
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