The Final Commercial Frontier?

by Tracy R. Walsh

Rachel Riederer is skeptical of space-mining ventures:

These new companies talk about space in a way that sounds unfamiliar to the civilian ear accustomed to the reverent tone of planetarium field trips; rather than the vastness of space, the companies emphasize its accessibility. Moon Express calls the moon “the eighth continent.” Planetary Resources wants to “bring the solar system into humanity’s sphere of influence.” Experiencing awe is fun. It’s even more fun to imagine a world of outer-space abundance in which we don’t have to worry about fossil fuels and everyone can afford a platinum case for their iPhone. And there is great potential for resource extraction in space, though these ventures will carry great upfront costs and plenty of uncertainty about whether they will actually come to fruition. Many deadlines and timeline estimates are fast approaching or have passed already.

What’s misleading about these projects isn’t that they’re subject to budget problems and delays, but that they come couched in overblown rhetoric about their potential to radically alter human life, to do away with the notion of scarcity and deliver us to a future of plenty and peace. It’s a pattern that has become familiar in Silicon Valley: develop a plan for a business that will do something cool and make a lot of money, but describe it instead as something that will change the world.

Previous Dish on extraplanetary resource exploitation here, here, here, and here.