Many people think the United States has turned its back on the Space Race.
And it certainly looks like our leaders have thrown in the towel...
Two years ago the Obama Administration cancelled plans for another manned moon shot. The thinking goes, it's not prudent to work on extraterrestrial exploration when we've got so many problems right here at home.
Just two weeks ago, the very symbol of our commitment to explore the heavens flew for the last time.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who felt sad watching the space shuttle Discovery take its last "flight" by piggy-backing on top of a Boeing 747.
Now, with history's most-flown spacecraft mothballed in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, that's the end of the story, right?
Not so fast...
What I call the New Space Race is about to "take off" in a big way.
Front and center in this race is asteroid mining. And you won't believe how much this stuff could be worth.
Here's the math that will blow your mind: A space rock the size of a museum gallery could contain resources worth $100 billion (according to the startup I'm about to tell you about).
And yes, I mean literally digging into asteroids to extract ores and other materials.
Asteroid Mining Could be a $15 Trillion Business
Not long ago, this was the stuff of sci-fi. (It smacks of the 1998 movie Armageddon, in which a team of roughnecks lands on an asteroid on a collision course with Earth in order to blow it out of the sky.)
Today, it's a reality, thanks to advances in three fields – low-cost computing, cheaper rockets, and advanced robotics.
Both private industry and the US government want to extract a wide range of resources from asteroids. They are teeming with resources like iron and nickel. A rock the size of a football stadium contains more platinum than we have mined in all of world history.
Remember, space is a target-rich field.
To date we have discovered some 9,000 of these rocks that pass near Earth's orbit. Of those, about 1,500 are just as easy to get to as the surface of the Moon. Moreover, they have light gravity, meaning spacecraft can land and take off easily.
If we hit pay dirt on all the close asteroids, they would be worth a combined $150 trillion. Don't take my word for it. You can do the math yourself right here.
No doubt, many of those rocks will be dead ends. But if we could tap just 10%, that would total $15 trillion worth of resources. (And if we're being even more conservative, just a 1% return would still equal $1.5 trillion – nearly the value of Canada's entire economy.)
So who's pursuing all this untold wealth?
At least two independent groups that include former NASA officials and leading scientists have plans to tap the thousands of big rocks orbiting in our solar system.
And that's not all. Obama wants an unmanned mission called OSIRIS-Rex to launch in 2016 and land on an asteroid. OSIRIS would return with resource samples by 2023.