By David Axe
The Daily Beast
Well, big potential business. No one has dug nickel out of an asteroid or scooped any tantalum from the lunar dust—at least not for profit. Before space miners can get drilling, they need to invent specialized industrial robots, set up orbital outposts and—arguably most importantly—convince investors, workers, and prospective buyers that space minerals are worth the cost and effort of mining them.
And now there’s another potential problem on the horizon: space pirates. How to stop them from stealing your minerals. And whose job it is to chase them down if they do manage to swipe your billion-dollar space-stash. No, I’m serious.
The subject of orbital grand theft came up during a panel discussion on the subject of space mining at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs this week. Peter Marquez, a vice president at Planetary Resources, a Washington, D.C. asteroid-mining company, recalled an encounter with a U.S. Navy official.
Marquez said the official asked him to imagine 100 years into the future, to a time when space mining is an established and thriving industry. “Space pirates,” the official said, “how would you protect against them?”
Marquez described being flabergasted. “You’re the U.S. Navy!” he said. The implication being, the military should fight space pirates just like it has battled, you know, Earthpirates over the centuries.
It all sounds so outlandish. But it’s increasingly likely that, sometime in the next few decades, this seemingly theoretical problem is going to become very real.
Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons