As a science fiction writer, I take great interest in following the progress of our science peers from the genetics labs to the observatories around the world. I attended WesterCon, a sci-fi convention held in Phoenix this week and participated in some incredible discussions with other knowledgeable authors with technical backgrounds. A few to mention are David Lee Summers and Tom Watson. I also met with a long-time friend, Don Jacques, who is incredibly knowledgeable on technological survival requirements both on Earth and in space. One of the panel discussions delved into the fear of corporate sponsorship controlling our reach into space. Another dealt with what to expect, regarding space over the next five to ten years. I have some theories and, after hearing other opinions on the subject, thought this would be a fun article to write for readers of sci-fi/fantasy.
When we look at Hollywood, we think of fantasy movies or series that are designed to entertain with action and special effects. Looking back, there are a few I’d like to reference before getting into my story. Armageddon and The 5th Element come to mind. First, let’s get into the corporate sponsorship portion of this story. I know many are against corporations tainting the reach into space but let’s be logical: no one will ever get us beyond the moon without corporate backing. In addition, no corporation will provide financial backing without a return on investment. So here we have a double-edged sword. Corporations will expect something in return. What is that something?
In Armageddon, we saw Bruce Willis lead a team onto an asteroid and plant explosives in its crust. This movie did a good job of showing some of the inherent dangers of altering an asteroid that could apply if we attempted to mine on one. Mining can be done with the right equipment but it will have its risks. Assuming it is done successfully, what controls do we have to monitor the materials brought back to Earth? Is there a way to ensure they are sanitary – pure of unknown organisms? From the corporate mind, the ores will have value. From the science mind, there could be more to it than just valuable metals or other material. The advantage of mining asteroids is the potential to discover new materials with advantageous uses – perhaps protection from radiation on space flights. This makes for a very exciting scenario that we are likely to see sooner than later.
Now you’re probably wondering why I mentioned The 5th Element, also another Bruce Willis movie. This just happens to be a coincidence, not a plug for Mr. Willis. The concept of a space liner for people to vacation in space can be profitable as a new form of tourism. This may be a little further off than mining in space but it does have potential. The way that the space cruise was portrayed is a valid idea assuming problems like radiation in space are resolved. One expensive drawback would be the means to evacuate and return to Earth in an emergency. The cost and means of the return would need to be molded into a practical part of the space liner. There are many people who would pay for an opportunity to partake of a vacation in space. This quickly becomes a lucrative option for a return on investment for corporations as this is basically a sea cruise but in space. Change the type of ship and raise the price – there’s your money maker.
The mining would have to come first because some of the profits would be used to build a space liner. The mining would have to be lucrative enough to generate significant profits to fund both space exploration and commercial goals. Corporations could raise additional funding through the financial markets as well. There are many things that have to happen along the way for space mining and tourism to occur but, with the renewal of human interest in space and concerns about Earth’s well-being (e.g. Yellowstone caldera), progress in reaching for the stars is rapidly advancing. I do believe we’ll see mining and reclamation of “space junk” soon. Tourism will take a bit longer but the profits will ensure that it does happen as soon as humanly possible. Until then, let’s wait and see.