Let the Asteroid Mining Begin!

And so asteroid mining begins…

Asteroid Mining?

Yesterday, Planetary Resources announced its intention to “mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals.” Not wanting to be outdone, Moon Express used the opportunity to update the public on its plan to mine the moon for precious metals. These developments are, in our view, a game changer of epic proportions.

“NASA’s space ventures have proved exceedingly disappointing in the four decades since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. The overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects.” ~ David Meyer, Asteroid Mining & Space Invaders

Asteroid mining holds tons of promise and not just in financial terms. This budding young industry could very well lead mankind to begin colonizing space in the not-so-distant future.

“If you look back historically at what has caused humanity to make its largest investments in exploration and in transportation, it has been going after resources, whether it’s the Europeans going after the spice routes or the American settlers looking toward the west for gold, oil, timber or land. Those precious resources caused people to make huge investments in ships and railroads and pipelines.” Peter Diamandis, Co-Founder, Planetary Resources

How will Asteroid Mining Work?

So, let’s get down to the details. How is this going to work? Well, Planetary Resources doesn’t expect to do mining work, at least not at first. Instead, it hopes to “launch a telescopic space surveyor into Earth’s low orbit in less than two years to identify potential metal- and water-rich asteroids.” After achieving success, this low-cost robotic surveying equipment will be marketed to private firms and government agencies.

In four years, Planetary Resources plans to send explorers to space to begin prospecting asteroids for raw materials. This is easier than it sounds. Asteroids lack air and for the most part, gravity as well. Thus, the technological requirements for landing a spacecraft on one are far less advanced than for landing on the moon.

The next step is developing mining equipment. Although asteroids are relatively rich in metals like platinum, the concentrations are still quite low. So, mining will likely be done by robots. In ten years, the company hopes to build its own galactic fueling stations and use hydrogen and oxygen from mined asteroids to refuel spaceships, allowing for deeper forays into the galaxy.

“We’re going to have to use the resources of space in order to explore space. Instead of having to build a new telecommunications satellite we can refuel the ones already up there.” ~ Eric Anderson, Co-Founder, Planetary Resources

The company expects space mining to be a multi-trillion dollar business over the next fifty years. From a consumer standpoint, as space mining becomes a reality, the cost of raw materials will decrease, allowing for cheaper and higher-quality goods.

“Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth – metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water – is in near-infinite quantities in space. The opportunity exists to create a company whose mission is to be able to go and basically identify and access some of those resources and ultimately figure out how to make them available where they are needed.” ~ Peter Diamandis, Co-Founder, Planetary Resources

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, there you have it, folks. Asteroid mining and rhe race for space has begun. As we indicated the other day, if things proceed as planned, yesterday could go down as one of the most important days in the history of space exploration…the day mankind set forth to conquer the universe.

Asteroid Mining & Space Invaders?

We’re fond of space exploration here at Guerrilla Explorer. From where we stand, NASA’s space ventures have proved exceedingly disappointing in the four decades since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. The overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects. But now, something new appears to be on the horizon. Are we nearing the dawn of asteroid mining?

The Asteroid Mining Industry?

On Tuesday, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google fame are expected to announce a new partnership with director James Cameron to create Planetary Resources, a company devoted to “space exploration and natural resources.”

“The company will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.” ~ Planetary Resources Press Release

Space exploration? Natural resources? I don’t know about you, but that sounds like asteroid mining to me. An additional clue in that regard is that Tuesday’s presentation will be hosted in part by Peter Diamandis, a vocal proponent of private space flight as well as asteroid mining. Which makes Cameron’s presence especially intriguing, given that his movie Avatar wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for space-based resource extraction.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, how would this work? Well, it’s long been known that asteroids contain high concentrations of minerals such as nickel and titanium. However, mining it was always considered unfeasible, due to heavy costs and lack of suitable technology. But this was largely because space mining was usually viewed through a government-only prism. As commercial interest picks up, this could change rapidly.

“However, if people were allowed to own space-based property and enjoy commercial benefits from it, whether they be tourism, mining, or something else, there would be far greater interest in colonization. Markets would form, inventors would create new technologies. The cost of space colonization would decline.” ~ David Meyer, Buying Real Estate…on Another Planet?

As for the mining itself, there are several different possibilities. Perhaps the most interesting one is known as in-situ resource utilization. In other words, astronauts would land on the asteroid and uses its resources to sustain themselves. Metals and minerals could be used to construct facilities. Mined quantities of hydrogen and oxygen could be used for fuel. The miners could extract water to drink and oxygen to breathe.

We’ll find out more details on Tuesday. However, if Planetary Resources announces what I think it will announce, April 24 could go down as one of the most important days in the history of space exploration…the day mankind sets forth to conquer the universe.

Buying Real Estate…on another Planet?

Over four decades have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. But since then, NASA’s space ventures have proved disappointing. No one has walked on the moon since 1971. And the overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects. So, when will mankind begin space colonization?

When will Mankind begin Space Colonization?

A few days ago, Rand Simberg from the Competitive Enterprise Institute issued an interesting white paper on the matter, entitled Homesteading the Final Frontier. In it, he suggests there is a rather simple way to encourage space exploration and ultimately, settlement…property rights.

“At the heart of the prosperity of the West lie clear and recognized freely transferrable property rights, protected under the rule of law. Absent legally recognized rights to buy, own, and sell titled property, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a loan to purchase said property, improve it, mine it, drill for minerals on it, or sell the proceeds from any of those activities. Property rights are a sine qua non of wealth creation and a reason why America and other Western nations are rich and others are poor. Moreover, they lie at the heart of liberty. Their current absence off planet partially explains why we have not developed the next and, in a sense, last frontier—space.” ~ Rand Simberg

Simberg has a point. Space colonization would be ultra-expensive. And without property rights, there’s no benefit to doing so. However, if people were allowed to own space-based property and enjoy commercial benefits from it, whether they be tourism, mining, or something else, there would be far greater interest in space colonization. Markets would form, inventors would create new technologies. The cost of space colonization would decline.

The Current Status of Space Colonization?

Currently, the 1979 Moon Treaty outlaws private property claims in space. The U.S. never signed that treaty. However, it is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. That particular treaty, while it appears to outlaw space-based private property, is open to interpretation. According to Simberg, the U.S. government could use it to auction off land in space.

That’s the legal argument. There’s also a preservation vs. development argument that needs to be made. One of the most common arguments against space colonization is that space should be completely preserved from human interference.

“Some of the problem arises from a false conception of space as scientific preserve, rather than as a new venue for human expansion. Under the former view, the universe is a fragile jewel to be observed and studied, but minimally explored, if at all, by humans.” ~ Rand Simberg

It’s similar to “preservation” arguments made in other fields of study. Some climate scientists and ecologists wish to preserve nature in situ (sometimes ignoring the fact that nature changes itself, often quite drastically). Social scientists want to preserve current population levels by managing growth. Malthusianists want to reduce resource consumption. Archaeologists are increasingly turning to remote sensing, ground penetrating radar, and other tools in order to completely avoid excavations. They want valuable and interesting artifacts left untouched and underground, presumably forever. These are strange, almost anti-human developments led by technocrats and guided by the odd hope that nothing ever changes.

“We have all the physical tools we need to build a better future. But the vision of the future itself is missing. We have returned to the mental condition of the Roman Empire; there is no future, only an unchanging, infinite Present. Hitler had the same static viewpoint; he called it the “Eternal Return” and symbolized it by the Swastika.” ~ Bill Walker, Take Back the Future

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

We here at Guerrilla Explorer love the idea of space colonization. It’s way past time humanity expanded its reach past this little rock we call Earth. But while Simberg’s proposal is interesting, it depends heavily on the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. And that’s problematic. After all, these same people bear much of the responsibility for the rather disappointing state of space exploration. As long as existing governments are perceived to own the rights to everything outside Earth’s atmosphere…indeed, the entire universe…space colonization will likely remain a slow, painful process.

On the other hand, a pure market approach, based on the Homestead Principle, could bear fruit. In other words, no one owns anything in space. However, each of us owns our own labor. So, if a person (or corporation) ventures to the moon or to part of another planet and mixes his or her labor with the land, well, that’s ownership.

The Hidden Side of Easter Island?

Probably all of you have seen pictures of Easter Island’s famous mo‘ai. But the statues are much larger than those pictures suggest. Back in 1987, Thor Heyerdahl received permission to temporarily excavate the tallest statue on Easter Island (37 feet tall).

Easter Island’s Mo’ai: The Full Picture

Check out this photograph of a giant Mo’ai head from Easter Island. As you can see, it has a giant underground body to go with it. The statue’s arms run down its sides and the hands are folded across its mid-section. By the way, Thor Heyerdahl is the man standing on the statue’s left side (your right). He is wearing a blue shirt and blue pants and his arm is resting against the statue’s side.

Sadly, you can’t see this body today…Heyerdahl reburied the bottom half of the statue shortly after completing his measurements. That’s all for now…enjoy!

The Hunt for the Lost Space Engines?

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. A short while later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin emerged, becoming the first humans to ever walk on that rock. Now, billionaire Jeff Bezos is after the original engines from that flight. He’s already located them. But recovering them won’t be easy.

The Hunt for the Lost Apollo 11 Engines?

Bezos’ team will have to descend 14,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, confirm they’ve actually got the right engines, and then raise the multi-ton hulks to the surface. No date has been set for the expedition but it promises to be one of the most incredible salvage efforts of all time, ranking up there with Robert E. Peary’s search for “The Tent.” Here’s more on the hunt for the lost Apollo 11 engines from Bezos Expeditions:

The F-1 rocket engine is still a modern wonder — one and a half million pounds of thrust, 32 million horsepower, and burning 6,000 pounds of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second. On July 16, 1969, the world watched as five particular F-1 engines fired in concert, beginning the historic Apollo 11 mission. Those five F-1s burned for just a few minutes, and then plunged back to Earth into the Atlantic Ocean, just as NASA planned. A few days later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

…I’m excited to report that, using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, the team has found the Apollo 11 engines lying 14,000 feet below the surface, and we’re making plans to attempt to raise one or more of them from the ocean floor. We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in – they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see…

(See “F-1 Engine Recovery” for more on the hunt for the lost Apollo 11 Space Engines)

The First Footage of the Mariana Trench Expedition!

Two days ago, explorer and director James Cameron descended 35,756 feet in a submersible to the deepest part of the ocean…the Mariana Trench.

Voyage to the Mariana Trench!

For the last few months, James Cameron has been angling to reach Challenger Deep – the deepest part of the Mariana Trench. In the process, he has raced three other groups – Triton Submarine (who wants to commercialize the Mariana Trench trip at a whopping $250,000 per person), Virgin Oceanic (owned by Richard Branson), and DOER Marine. Two days ago,James Cameron piloted his submersible 35,756 feet to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Cameron stayed in the Mariana Trench for about three hours. He didn’t stay as long as expected (he was supposed to be in the Trench for up to six hours). He also suffered at least one equipment-related malfunction – the crashing of the sub’s hydraulic arm. But otherwise, his expedition was a smashing success.

Now, he’s back…with some of the first footage from the expedition. Check out the whole video of the Mariana Trench expedition at National Geographic.

Breaching the Mariana Trench!

Yesterday, at 5:51pm EST, director James Cameron’s submersible descended 35,756 feet to the deepest part of the ocean…the Mariana Trench. Eight minutes later, in a sign of the times, he tweeted about it:

“Just arrived at the ocean’s deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can’t wait to share what I’m seeing w/ you.” ~ James Cameron

What’s in the Mariana Trench?

That’s some impressive mobile reception! Anyway, Cameron stayed in the Mariana Trench for about three hours and resurfaced at 10pm EST. He didn’t stay as long as expected (he was supposed to be in the Trench for up to six hours). He also suffered at least one equipment-related malfunction – the crashing of the sub’s hydraulic arm. But otherwise, his expedition was a smashing success.

So, what did he see down there? Well, not a whole lot. It turns out the Mariana Trench is extremely isolated and appears devoid of big creatures. However, subsequent dives may change that opinion. In the meantime, here are some select quotes from today’s live press conference, provided by Deep Sea Challenge:

  • “The ocean gave me a choice: you can either make this dream, or you can go to the red carpet premiere of Titanic in London.”
  • “Don Walsh (who reached the Trench in 1960) and I are in a very unique club of two people who has seen what is down there in such a remote place.”
  • “I see this as the beginning of opening up this frontier. Open up to science & understand these deep places.”
  • “I expected life and I found that the life is much smaller. Didn’t see big jellyfish and anemones I saw at the New Britain Trench.”
  • “This is a vast frontier that’s going to take us awhile to understand. It was very lunar, desolated, isolated.”
  • “The bottom of Challenger Deep was featureless. I had this idea that life would adapt, but don’t think we’re seeing that.”
  • “We’re going to do better on the next dive w/ samples. When hydraulic arm crashed, it crashed hard.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that’s it for now. Stay tuned…we’ll post the link to the press conference as soon as it’s available. And of course, all of us here at Guerrilla Explorer want to wish a hearty congratulations to James Cameron and the team at Deep Sea Challenge…way to go!

Race to the Mariana Trench!

On January 23, 1960, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard descended 35,814 feet into the deepest part of the ocean…the Mariana Trench. Now, director James Cameron intends to duplicate the feat.

Race to the Mariana Trench!

James Cameron hopes to become the first person to reach Challenger Deep – the deepest part of the Mariana Trench – in 52 years. He’s racing against three other groups – Triton Submarine (who wants to commercialize the Mariana Trench trip at a whopping $250,000 per person), Virgin Oceanic (owned by Richard Branson), and DOER Marine. Here’s more on Cameron’s upcoming expedition to the Mariana Trench:

Squeezed into a submersible as futuristic as anything in his movies, James Cameron intends to descend solo to the ocean‘s deepest point within weeks, the Canadian filmmaker and explorer announced Thursday. (See more pictures of Cameron’s sub.)

Just Tuesday, during testing off Papua New Guinea, Cameron dived deeper than any other human has on a solo mission. Now he aims to become the first human to visit the Mariana Trench‘s Challenger Deep in more than 50 years—and to return with animals, images, and data that were unthinkable in 1960.

That year the two-person crew of the U.S. Navy submersible Trieste—still the only humans to have reached Challenger Deep—spent only 20 minutes at the bottom, their view obscured by silt stirred up by the landing (more on the Trieste dive)…

(See National Geographic for more on James Cameron’s expedition to the bottom of the Mariana Trench)

The Strange Voyage of the HMS Challenger

On December 21, 1872, the HMS Challenger left Portsmouth, England with ~240 people. Four years later it returned, completing one of the greatest ocean expeditions of all time. What was the strange voyage of the HMS Challenger?

The Strange Voyage of the HMS Challenger?

The HMS Challenger discovered over 4,000 ocean creatures, many of which were in parts of the ocean thought to be unlivable. It located mountains, found the Marinara Trench, and laid the groundwork for the science of oceanography.

Oh, and it drove its crew batty.

Only 144 people returned…the rest succumbed to insanity, sickness, or just plain ran for the hills when the HMS Challenger pulled into one of its many ports. Here’s more on the strange HMS Challenger Expedition from io9:

…In the early 1800s, the ocean was something to fish in and to get across. What happened below 1500 feet was of no concern to anyone, although scientists calculated that the pressure, the temperature, and the lack of sunlight meant that no life existed below…

In 1872, the HMS Challenger was sent out to circumnavigate the globe, with a crew of around 240 sailors and scientists. When it got back in 1876, it had 144 people aboard, losing people to madness, death, sickness, and sheer desperation to escape the voyage. It also held a wealth of information that launched a new era of exploration, and a new field of science…

(See io9 for more on the HMS Challenger expedition)

Lake Vostok: Hitler’s Secret Antarctica Base?

For over twenty years, Russian scientists have attempted to break through some two miles of ice and breach the surface of Lake Vostok. Recently, the Russian expedition seemingly vanished. Now, it has reappeared and reports of success are running rampant. What did the expedition find? Nothing at all? New lifeforms? A Nazi submarine complete with Hitler’s corpse?

The Lost World of Lake Vostok?

Lake Vostok has been sealed off from the outside world for somewhere between 400,000 to 20 million years. It remains liquid due to heavy pressure from the ice as well as geothermal heat. Lake Vostok constitutes an extreme environment, not too dissimilar from what one might expect to find underneath the ice on Mars or Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Researchers are hopeful they will find new lifeforms (probably microbial in nature) within its waters.

Lake Vostok = Secret Nazi Base?

However, at least one source is suggesting a different possibility. RIA Novosti is the state-owned Russian news agency that broke the story of the expedition’s success. In its report, RIA Novosti discussed a theory that the Nazis built a secret base in the region. It also mentioned other Antarctica-based rumors: Nazi relics…secret files…and even the corpses of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun which were apparently being set aside for…you guessed it…cloning purposes.

The odds of the Russian expedition discovering Nazi artifacts in the vicinity of Lake Vostok are beyond low. Still, it’s not completely out of the question. The Nazis explored Antarctica in 1939 and were interested in building a naval base in the region. Also, several Nazi submarines, notably the U-977, escaped immediate capture after the war. The activities of these subs remain shrouded in mystery. Here’s more on the Nazi speculation at Lake Novosti from RIA Novosti:

It is thought that towards the end of the Second World War, the Nazis moved to the South Pole and started constructing a base at Lake Vostok. In 1943, Grand Admiral Karl Dontiz was quoted saying “Germany’s submarine fleet is proud that it created an unassailable fortress for the Fuehrer on the other end of the world,” in Antarctica.

According to German naval archives, months after Germany surrendered to the Allies in April, 1945, the German submarine U-530 arrived at the South Pole from the Port of Kiel. Crewmembers constructed an ice cave and supposedly stored several boxes of relics from the Third Reich, including Hitler’s secret files.

It is also rumored that later the submarine U-977 delivered the remains of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun to Antarctica for DNA cloning purposes…

(See the rest on Nazi speculation at Lake Novosti from RIA Novosti)