Thursday, 31 May 2012

Planetary Resources: Sci Fi Geek adventure IRL

I watched the planetary resources video after Larry Page shared it. I have to say, the beginning sequence is like the Star wars A long time ago in a galaxy far away intro text.. Basically, they want to mine asteroids with robotic drones.


Ten years after Arthur C. Clarke thought we'd have moon bases, artificial intelligence and rubbish human-computer interfaces (nobs, switches and glowing lights.. agh) FINALLY a company wants to do something COOL in space! NASA, with it's boggling budgets, petty politics and rubbish recent record has acted more like a fat-cat social welfare programme for smart people.

Here's a bit more marketing spin, skip if the video already made you nauseous:
Planetary Resources is establishing a new paradigm for resource discovery and utilization that will bring the solar system into humanity’s sphere of influence. Our technical principals boast extensive experience in all phases of robotic space missions, from designing and building, to testing and operating. We are visionaries, pioneers, rocket scientists and industry leaders with proven track records on—and off—this planet.
Sounds impressive huh.. so who is behind all this? IT Geeks. Rich successful ones including Googlers Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, along with Microsoft's Charles Simonyi.. You know it's serious if this dude is on board, he paid the Russians millions to go to the International Space station.. twice.

Charles Simonyi posing
So the official business case for this is to bring scarce resources to earth in order to make trillions. I don't buy into this.. First off the data provided by asterank is using the price of the materials based on their current scarcity.. prices will plummet if you dump the market with platinum from an asteroid.. Even taking the figures at face value the best asteroid is worth 18.49 trillion for a 3.55 trillion profit... So we are going to spend more than the GDP of America to attempt to retrieve an asteroid? Right....

Why do I think they're doing it? They want to build stuff in space, because it's cool. In time, mining asteroids could be the cheapest way to build space infrastructure. Currently to put satellites or other infrastructure in space it costs $5,000 - $40,000 PER KILOGRAM as a lot of energy is required to escape Earth's gravity well. Unless we get round to building a space elevator (a space geek's wet dream) then procuring material to make stuff and gather fuel (water etc) in space makes sense.

Why do they want to build stuff in space? Well there's the whole 'provide a second home for humanity' argument as per Robert A. Heinlein: "Earth is too small a basket for mankind to keep all its eggs in.". But seriously, humans aren't well designed for space (it totally kills us), as Arthur C. Clarke said: "The stars are not for man". Anyway sending our semi-evolved, lying, cheating, murderous species into space might not be doing the universe any favours. I prefer John Smart's transcension hypothesis, which doesn't require us going into space, but rather shrinking.

Civilization's future could be pretty morbid... with us inside a black hole of our own creation, on a highly accelerated path to merging with other universal civilizations doing the same thing. No where near as sexy as Star Wars.

I think the real reason they want to build stuff in space is because they have lots of money, and want to spend it on a feeling of excitement and adventure. When you're worth billions and own your own Boeing jet-plane it becomes harder to achieve. As kids, the founders would have read all the Sci Fi space adventure authors in their local library: H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark et al. Now they want to replicate those stories in real life. I think it's great, I read the same books.