Richard Garriott has already proven that a big ol' pile of money is all it takes to book a leisurely jaunt to outer space. Lord British paid out a few million bucks to ride a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station in 2008. Who better to follow in his footsteps than James Cameron, who recently dove to the deepest point on Earth in his own submarine? Well, we can think of a few people who have the money qualification down pat. Google bigshots Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, for instance. What do they have in common with James Cameron? Aside from millions in the bank, they might be backing a new company called Planetary Resources to mine for natural resources in space.
In space! Planetary Resources is holding a company launch event on April 24 at the Seattle Museum of Flight, and its list of backers includes millionaires like Cameron and billionaires like Larry Page and Ross Perot Jr. One of the company's founders is Charles Simonyi, who went on a space vacation a year before Garriott, and a former NASA astronaut is serving as an advisor. Planetary Resources plans to "unveil a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity's prosperity."
Here's their mission statement:
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’.
The deep pockets of the backers and their expertise points to some kind of space program, but there's just no way Planetary Resources could add trillions to the global GDP by collecting space rocks. It costs about $450 million to launch a space shuttle. Actually building a shuttle costs closer to $2 billion. A lighter vehicle, such as an unmanned mining rover, would be cheaper to launch, but every round trip would cost millions and the R&D involved would just pile on the expenses.
But maybe Page, Cameron and co. are just rich enough, and passionate enough, to get the ball rolling. NASA budget cuts have the organization rethinking its planned Mars trips slated for later this decade. Whether Planetary Resources plans to research space junk or build its own fleet of autonomous asteroid miners, it's guaranteed to be an interesting project.