Writers of speculative fiction as well as scientists and engineers since Konstantin
Tsiolkovskii (b. 1857) have suggested that future space travellers will mine
the moon, asteroids, and other planets for raw materials. Recent books such
as Mining the Sky by John Lewis and Doomsday Asteroid by Donald W. Cox and James
H. Chestek (see books) reiterate this theme of "mining the sky" as
a way to reenergize flagging space programs.
In the next century comets and asteroids may provide the bulk of the raw materials
needed to colonize the solar system. We may even move some asteroids or comets
to Earth orbits to access them more easily. Interestingly, it is the most dangerous
near-Earth objects that offer the easiest access.
Asteroids could provide precious metals like natural stainless steel to be
used in space contruction projects, such as the space cities envisioned by the
PERMANENT project. One cubic kilometer of a nickel-iron asteroid is estimated
to contain seven billion tons of iron, one billion tons of nickel, and sufficient
cobalt to supply the Earth for three thousand years. The total current value
would exceed five trillion U.S. dollars. The total mineral wealth of the main
belt asteroids would probably exceed one hundred billion dollars per person
living on Earth today.
Comets could provide vast quantities of water to an Earth threatened with
a decreasing supply of fresh water. Comets could also supply large quantities
of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, two principal ingredients of rocket fuel.
This view transforms near Earth objects from a source only of potential danger
to a source of potential wealth and economic renewal. If we capitalize on this
wealth we should be able to forestall a Malthusian tragedy for millenia. Moving
off the Earth to self-sustaining colonies avoids the problem with having "all
our eggs in one basket." Should a doomsday comet or asteroid strike the
Earth before we have the technology to divert it, humanity and other Earthly
forms of life will be able to survive in those colonies. Their survival will
have been made possible by the very objects that most threaten our continued
survival here on Earth.
You have now completed your study of Asteroids. Most people in my in-house
class think that doing a planet report on Asteroids is the worst possible draw
from our random process, but I hope that you have found this to be far more
interesting. Please return to Asteroids, or the
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