Mining of the third kind

The US is preparing to exploit the minerals in asteroids, but who owns the riches in space?

When an asteroid streaked across the Siberian sky last February, creating a shockwave that downed trees, shattered glass, blew in buildings and injured some 1,200 people around the Urals, the event focused new attention on the extra-planetary risks mankind is exposed to, from potentially catastrophic asteroids to disabled satellites and space debris. But an article that ran the following day in the Moscow Times hinted at a far more downto- earth dilemma that terrestrial governments and private companies are just now starting to grapple with: galactic real estate. By two o’clock in the afternoon on February 15, the same day the asteroid struck Russian soil near Chelyabinsk, there were already at least half a dozen websites selling meteorite fragments, some offering two-centimeter chunks of the asteroid for 500 rubles, or approximately 12 euros, each. Fragments of the Chelyabinsk meteorite are comet curios, valuable as extraterrestrial trinkets and physical proof of a global news event, but early analysis of that meteorite and others like it underline why space laws and regulations are swiftly becoming necessary: they’re full of resources. Asteroids are generally rich in a wide range of minerals and ores, including large amounts of iron, nickel and titanium. Scientists theorize that asteroid mining could extract water, oxygen and hydrogen as well, helping support off world mining activities.

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