Saturday, April 21, 2012

Google execs, 'Avatar' director James Cameron back new asteroid mining venture

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, because it's been used in science fiction, before: asteroid mining. And it's about to become the next frontier for a new start-up, one funded by quite a few notable backers, including Google founder and CEO Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman. Also involved is director James Cameron, of "Avatar" fame.

The start-up is named Planetary Resources Inc. Other backers include Google director Ram Shriram, Ross Perot Jr. and former Microsoft executive and veteran astronaut Charles Simonyi. In fact, the company's launch event will be held at the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Tuesday.

In a press release from the company issued this week, former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki is listed as president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, with commercial spaceflight advocates Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson listed as co-chairmen.

The press release went on to say that the company will "overlay two critical sectors - space exploration and natural resources - to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP" and "help ensure humanity's prosperity." The Tuesday event will detail more of the company's plans.

A project of this nature would not be cheap. Earlier this month, a NASA study concluded that it was possible that we could use robotic spacecraft to capture a 500-ton asteroid seven meters in diameter and bring it into orbit around the moon, where it could be explored and mined. The price tag, however, would be a cool $2.6 billion.

Cameron's participation is, of course, truly ironic. The huge smash hit "Avatar" involved mining on the planet of Pandora, for a valuable mineral - the snarkily named unobtanium.

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