Friday, March 10, 2023

MINING THE ASTEROIDS Part 5 – Practicalities: We Can DO It! But, What Is Our Greatest Obstacle?

They say you have to learn to WALK before your can FLY, so before we start driving asteroids around the Solar System (and I can’t believe that Russia, China, the EU, India, Brazil, and the United States will give a happy thumbs up to that action (which just put in my mind that MOVING asteroids into Earth orbit will have to be a true, multi-national effort with multi-national crews…which, of course, will lead to incredible stress and possible conflict…)) let’s look at how we’ll start walking…

Humans have been taking pictures of asteroids, and doing flybys for twenty or more years. Recently, we’ve started landing on asteroids: So, let’s say, “We can do it!” (Make sure you wear ruby slippers and click your heels together with your eyes closed.)

From the Wright Brother’s 1903 powered flight with a Human passenger, to Virgin Galactic flying passengers to the edge of space – it took us less than 100 years of experience to make flying in heavier-than-air-craft so routine, it means NOTHING to most people.

We’re actually PAST the 1903 point of Wilbur and Orville – we have rockets that go into space. We have REUSABLE rockets. Humans have been in space without a break, for 23 years. We’ve been conducting experiments in space for longer than that. We’ve had rovers or Humans digging into extraterrestrial objects since the first Russian mission specifically designed to “excavate” the Lunar surface: “Luna 13‘s mission was to assess the suitability of the lunar surface for a manned Soviet landing that would never come. The main instrument was a penetrometer, attached to the end of a long boom deployed after landing. The instrument had a short rod with a sharpened tip and a small solid-propellant rocket motor to drive it down into the lunar surface. It penetrated 45 cm into the regolith and measured the density and consistency of the soil.”

So, we dug our first space hole a mere 56 years ago. Since 1966? Can I even count the number of profound societal and technological changes that have occurred? What I’m typing on now; my cell phone next to me; organ transplants; antivirals; digital books; 4711 CONFIRMED extraterrestrial planets; smart phones, smart cars; Artificial Intelligence; robot cows; cancer treatments; distance learning…anyway, the naysayers for asteroid mining are (maybe) as blind as the 1966 Luna 13…

Since February of 2001, we’ve landed six craft on five asteroids and a comet, with five more in serious planning phases between 2023 and 2028…

What will we NEED to land on an asteroid? At this point, money.

What will we need to start mining an asteroid – more money, but probably some advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as tests to take terrestrial mining practices and translate them into effective, low gravity protocols. We’ll need people to go to the asteroids – not for the “glory of landing on the Moon or Mars or whatever”, but for the practical purpose of transferring our industrial processes into space.



Trust seems to be in extremely short supply as I write this.

Why trust? How many governments – or individual Humans – would be OK with knowing that there are OTHER Humans out there who are in control of an asteroid (any one) that could, if dropped on Earth in a fit of pique or in response to a refusal of [name the country] to do what they want, end all life on the planet? At the very least obliterate an offending nation’s capital city and most of its politicians…

How long would it take before such a plan was hatched; then how long until that plan was REALLY able to be executed?

While I fear it may take a while to bring such a plan to fruition, all it would take is a few well-placed, educated, and determined individuals to pull off such an event. And while I believe that asteroid mining is absolutely possible for us as a world to achieve, I am completely UNSURE if Humanity as a whole will be able to mature in synch with the technology…

Then again, they said the same thing about nuclear weapons, and (as I write this) we’ve only used it against each other twice; and no terrorist has ever exploded a nuke anywhere on Earth.

Maybe we’ll make it to the point where asteroid mining will “save the world”!

I certainly hope so.