Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mining Asteroids, 2013

We now have two competing companies with their sights set on mining asteroids for commercial reasons.  Both companies are pursuing the dream I developed in my book, “Mining the Sky”, and both companies include long-time friends and students on their rolls.  To me the fact that there is competition in this endeavor is at least as important as the fact that it is being done at all.  It is through competition that new ideas are stimulated and old ideas are put to the test.
Which of these companies is the wave of the future?  I confess to having no crystal ball.  Being near the head of the line is no guarantee of long-term dominance—when’s the last time you used a Commodore PET or a TRS 80, not mention an Apple I?  Played any games on your TI-99 recently?  How’s the market for Xerox Altos?
Huge sales do not even guarantee long-term success: the best-selling personal computer ever was the Commodore 64, which, because of a price war with the TI-99, drove all players to the brink of bankruptcy (or over it).
The IBM PC and the Apple II were not “present at the creation”: they were just better…and quite different in design philosophy.  PCs and Apples still lead the personal computer world, although IBM has long since sold its own PC business to Lenovo in China, and armies of PC clones abound.
So are Planetary Resources Inc. and Deep Space industries the TI-99s and Commodore 64s of the space mining endeavor?  Or are they Apples and PCs?  Tune in again in ten years and maybe we’ll know.
A sure measure of the health of this new industry will be when even more competitors appear.
I have seen asteroid mining referred to as a “billion dollar industry”.  This is not correct: if the idea works, it is a multi-trillion dollar industry, making available to mankind more resources than the human race has used to date.  And if it is not successful, it will be known as a multi-million dollar flop.
I’m betting on long-term success.  Yesterday I joined the staff of Deep Space Industries as their Chief Scientist.  If, as the researchers are telling us, working Sudoku and crossword puzzles helps keep the brain functioning, then opening up the Solar System to the human race is likely to be an even more stimulating endeavor.  We no longer need fear “running out of resources” on a “finite planet”. 
The sky is no longer the limit.

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