Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Group hopes to mine asteroids within 10 years

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SEATTLE -- Using space-faring robots to mine precious metals from asteroids almost sounds easy when former astronaut Tom Jones describes it -- practically like clearing a snow-covered driveway.

Jones, an adviser to a Planetary Resources Inc., a venture that aims to extract gold, platinum and rocket fuel from space rocks, said many near-Earth asteroids have a loose surface held together only weakly by gravity.

"It shouldn't be too hard to invent a machine like a snow blower to pick up material off these asteroids," explained Jones.

Some of the biggest and richest names in high technology -- including the barons of Google and filmmaker James Cameron -- are behind the project.

If the plan gets off the ground as planned, robots could be extracting cosmic riches within 10 years.

The inaugural step, to be achieved in the next 18 to 24 months, would be launching the first in a series of private telescopes that would search for the right type of asteroids.

The proposal is to use commercially built robotic ships to squeeze rocket fuel and valuable minerals out of the rocks that routinely whiz by Earth, officials told a Seattle news conference Tuesday.

Several scientists not involved in the project said they don't see how the project could be cost-effective, even with platinum and gold worth nearly $1,600 an ounce. An upcoming NASA mission to return just 60 grams of an asteroid to Earth will cost about $1 billion.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2012 A9

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