One of the best signs of a healthy economy is when people are willing to take big risks with their own money.
How wild of an idea? Hire a team of NASA and Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) experts, build an unmanned drilling rocket, fly it into the solar system to dock with an asteroid, bore holes and extract titanium, use flying cargo ships to bring it back, and sell it for a massive profit. You can shake your head, but if you think of the gold prospectors of 1849 who set out across a torturous road to San Francisco, walked to snow covered Alaska, and dug for gold nuggets – the risks don’t seem so farfetched.
Planetary Resources’ pitch makes a compelling argument that we’ve already done things in space that are more complex like the Mars Lander and the Saturn Explorers. They say it’s only a matter of time before we mine asteroids, and that they have the best of the best people to pull it off. The target asteroid (Amum 3554) is a mile wide and has (they attest) $20 trillion of titanium in it. The world’s largest stock exchange, the NYSE, houses companies with a total market value of less than that.
We keep beating ourselves up that the U.S. has lost its ability to reward investment, to encourage business development, or to have the education to make real discovery anymore. This asteroid mining effort, no matter how uncertain you believe it is, has American knowhow, American employees, and American capital. True, most of those 1849 gold miners came back empty handed, but this team is far more realistic than someone with a wool overcoat and a pick axe.
Besides, we’re trying. That’s American.