The Final Frontier
By Bobby Neal Winters
I’ve been excited watching SpaceX, exploding rockets and all. It is capitalism being directed toward space. Yes, I am a geek/nerd/whatever label you want to affix to me. I watched Star Trek in the early 1970s; I watched Star Wars when there was still just the one movie. So you can dismiss me if you want to.
But there is money to be made. If history teaches us anything, it is this: If money can be made it will be. You could even sing it: “Ain’t no mountain high enough, and no valley low enough..” to keep entrepreneurs away from profit.
Where, where is this money in space you ask? Are there banks filled with it out there? Are there little green men with checkbooks? That I will answer by saying who knows.
The money is in mining: Mining the moon; mining asteroids.
Mining is a nasty business. There is the aesthetic aspect; open pit mines are ugly. Here in southeast Kansas we know that strip pits will fill with water and make a nice little lake for the doctors and the lawyers to build houses on, but that is not the image they have in many places. Then there is the chemical aspect where heavy metals are released into the environment.
All the above lead to regulation, and regulation puts pressure on entrepreneurs to find another way to make money. It is at this point, the entrepreneur puts his finger to the wind and finds it pointing to space, the Final Frontier.
For those who don’t like regulations, frontiers are very attractive places. Frontiers tend not to have very many regulations to begin with, and those few regulations they do have don’t have very many people around to enforce them. Maybe Marshal Dillon and Festus, but that’s it. They didn’t manage to enforce the regulations on Miss Kitty, did they?
They are already studying asteroids. Some of this is being done in the name of making us safe from planet killers like the one that got the dinosaurs, but don’t fool yourself. It’s all about the Benjamins, Baby.
This will take a long time. I will not live long enough to see anybody make a dime from asteroid mining directly. Elon Musk will make a lot of money on the ramp up because there is a lot of money to be made in satellite communication. He’s building a network of satellites that has the potential to make every person in the world potentially connected to every other.
This being said, I don’t think he will live long enough to make a dime out of asteroid mining because it is going to take a long time to get the infrastructure ramped up. This is the thing that all science fiction misses: Infrastructure takes time.
But given the need for things that are mined, there will be added pressure to do this.
Right now, we are worried about climate change and we are looking for alternatives to oil. That puts pressure on renewable/low carbon sources of energy, and consequently, there is pressure to produce more batteries. Batteries require ingredients that have to be mined. As has been pointed out, mining can be nasty, so this encourages mining in space.
So we have a place where those who are concerned about the environment have a natural alliance with those who wish to become as rich as Croesus. This kind of makes me want to reach for my tinfoil hat, but let’s push on.
This sort of synergy argues for mining in space.
In addition to mining, you could move dirty industries to space. No regulations for them either. A lot of the work would be done by robots, but there would be people too. And they would have to move there because the jobs they used to do on earth would be gone. There are people to whom the nasty work of mining looks like opportunity, my father and his father and brothers to name a few.
Instead of going to the east Texas oil fields or off shore or Alaska, they would go to space. Eventually, they will build space habitats complete with company stores, mark my words. And you think Las Vegas is wild or that Old Dodge City was. You haven’t seen anything yet.
It’s not going to be as utopian as Star Trek. Think Firefly or the Expanse.
I don’t see it, but maybe my grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )