The billionaire-backed Planetary Resources, Inc. announced Tuesday (April 24) that it hopes to mine near-Earth asteroids for water and precious metals, with the dual aims of making a tidy profit and helping open the final frontier to further exploration and exploitation. The plan involves sending "a swarm" of 20-pound satellites, at a cost of as much as $5 million apiece, 500 miles from Earth in search of potential platinum-rich asteroids.
Asteroid mining looks to be a multidecade effort, requiring billions of investment dollars. But Planetary Resources has that covered, at least in part, as Google Inc. Chief Executive Larry Page and Chairman Eric Schmidt are two of the high-profile backers, along with filmmaker James Cameron, each of whom is worth several billion dollars.
Some experts think the metals could drive down the prices of many consumer goods here on Earth, while the water has the potential to revolutionize space transportation.
What do you think? Is this a viable venture? A good investment opportunity? Simply a diversion for billionaires? Who will benefit? Will anyone benefit? Are they secretly looking for unobtainium? What if they find one of those big lizard aliens from the movie Alien?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.