1 They’re vital to future missions
While we’ve carried out some missions to asteroids we’ve never had a prolonged stay on the surface of an asteroid. Future missions, like NASA’s proposal to capture an asteroid and then visit it, would help us learn how to operate in deep space. It would provide us with key information as to how astronauts can operate in minimal gravity environments on long-duration missions, and it just might be a useful precursor to a mission to Mars.
2 We could use them to make rocket fuel
One of the main constraints of space exploration is rocket fuel. The majority of any spacecraft’s mass is often taken up by rocket fuel, whether its liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen or whatever. One common constituent of rocket fuel, however, is water. If we could find water in space, we could hypothetically reprocess it into rocket fuel. And it just so happens that some asteroids are thought to contain vast amounts of water, possibly in the form of ice. If we could harness this water, we could refuel spacecraft in space rather than having to lift all the required fuel into space form Earth, therefore reducing the cost of space exploration.
3 They’re full of useful resources
While reports vary somewhat, it is estimated that metal-rich asteroids could contain huge quantities of particularly useful resources. Ones rich in platinum-group metals, for example, could contain more platinum than has ever been used on Earth. Companies like Planetary Resources have suggested that, because of this, metal-rich asteroids could be worth multiple billions of dollars to Earth’s economy. Of course, there is a question of oversaturation of a market if such mining is possible, but there’s little doubt that the impact of asteroids on our economy could be massive.
4 There’s much to be learned about asteroids
We like to think we know a lot about asteroids but, really, we don’t know everything. What are their exact compositions? Were they the progenitors of water, metal and life on Earth? What’s inside them? Asteroid mining, aside from being a potentially profitable business, could also unearth some key science from these floating space rocks that are thought to be remnants from the early Solar System. By studying them we can learn more about them in addition to unearthing more secrets of our own planet as well.
5 Asteroids are easier to get to than the Moon
While most asteroids hang out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, a few thousand known as near-Earth asteroids traverse the inner Solar System and often pass very close to our planet. Reaching such an asteroid requires much less energy and fuel than going to the Moon, and considerably less than going to Mars. This is thanks not only to their proximity, but also their lower gravity which makes landing on them much easier. If we truly want to continue to explore space, using asteroids as relatively near targets is a great way to go.