Astrogeology Science Center

Can we tell what riches asteroids hold for humans in space?

17 May 2017

Until now, asteroid and near-Earth object mining seemed far-fetched but is now transitioning from the realm of science fiction to reality. Three USGS Space Scientists discuss their vision for 2050 including the rationale for Solar System resource assessment and methodology, and essential planetary studies.

Artist rendition of asteroid mining

Photo Credit: NASA/AMA INC.

Here is an excerpt from the recent abstract by Laszlo Keszthelyi and colleagues:

“Several major challenges must be overcome before there are human bootprints on Mars.  The most problematic obstacle may be the price tag, a large fraction of which comes from hauling material out of Earth’s gravity well.  Obtaining key resources (e.g., water and metals) in the space between Earth and Mars could dramatically reduce the costs of a trip to Mars.  A sustained human presence on Mars is only practical if local resources can be utilized. The obvious way to obtain such resources is to mine near-Earth objects (NEOs) and the shallow subsurface of Mars (and perhaps the Moon).  Enabling such mining will almost certainly be a key component of the US space program in 2050.” 

Full abstract 

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