The Two-Way
10:34 am
Tue April 24, 2012

Mine The Asteroids? How About By 2020?

It's not J.J. Abrams' souped up special effects film, 'Armageddon' - there's a real effort afoot to launch rockets into space to dock with asteroids. A new company is trying to do just that, and it's won the backing of several technology leaders. There's even a star Hollywood director involved: James Cameron, who just set a record by diving alone in a mini-submarine to the bottom of the world's deepest ocean on a scientific quest.

He's affiliated with two entrepreneurs, aerospace engineer Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis, the co-founder of the X Prize Foundation. The two have already tried ideas like weightless airplane rides and helping tourists get a ride into space, according to AP. Now they want to send unmanned spacecraft to space to retrieve valuable substances from asteroids.

Their first goal? Water. Eric Anderson told CNN today water is worth about $20,000 to $50,000 per pound. The potential water could help refuel rockets in space headed for other space destinations.

For Earth's use, there are potentially more lucrative finds. CNET compiled a list of potential asteroid minerals, such as iron, nickel, platinum and more.

The entrepreneurs hope to have these unmanned mining projects running by 2020. First, they'll have to launch several private telescopes into space to find the best asteroid targets: they told AP they intend to send up the telescopes within two years.

Co-founder Diamandis told Forbes although asteroid mining is difficult, humans need to find new natural resources and stop pillaging the planet to find them.

It won't be cheap. NASA will launch an asteroid explorer of its own in 2016: the OSIRIS-REx is supposed to return an asteroid sample to Earth. NASA's cost is more than one billion dollars, which suggests how much investment money Planetary Resources Inc. must raise to send its mining operation into space and keep it running.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.