Humanity’s preoccupation with space is an ongoing love affair. That the ardour has a more urgent veneer today, due to the increasingly likely necessity of our species to leave planet Earth and colonise another planet in the solar system, has only served to expound our passion for astronomy, a fascination that dates back centuries.
After all, it was only mere weeks ago that the legendary theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, advised that it might be best for human kind to start the lengthy process of packing its bags in readiness for an expedition away from our fair shores and onward to pastures new.
The reasoning behind his assertion is arresting to say the least; Hawking cited existential risks facing our planet, such as a long overdue (and potentially disastrous) meteor strike, epidemics and overpopulation as evidence that it might be advisable for us to colonise a new planet.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk and his merry band of geniuses continue a heady and literally otherworldly march toward the colonisation of Mars; the visionary entrepreneur has set himself strict deadlines for the various phases of his plan and appears to be, to all intents and purposes, on schedule.
The capitalisation of new worlds, though, is not the only use scientists and astronauts are putting outer space to, after reports abound that NASA has fast-tracked a mission to reach an asteroid that is thought to be worth an utterly astonishing amount of money.
It has been reported that NASA has expedited a mission to reach an asteroid so replete with iron and nickel that it is believed to be worth £8,000 quadrillion (a monetary denomination I didn’t even know existed), such an astonishingly large amount of money, the Metro claims, that it would crash the world economy.
The asteroid, known as 16 Psyche is thought to be 124 miles wide, and NASA will launch their Psyche mission in 2022, a mere five years from now, with the expedition, expected to reach the asteroid in 2026.
The idea of mining resources including precious metals and hard-to-find resources from such asteroids has become a modern preoccupation for companies like Planetary Resources, backed by the movie director James Cameron. The company describes asteroids like 16 Psyche as the “low-hanging fruit of our solar system”, expanding that “a single 500-metre platinum-rich asteroid contains more platinum than has been mined in the history of humanity”, according to the Metro
It has been speculated by scientists that 16 Psyche might be the exposed core of a planet that could once have been as large as Mars before losing its outer layers in violent clashes several billion years ago.
As Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins- Tanton, from Arizona State University explains, “This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world – not one of rock or ice, but of metal.
16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system, and this is the only way humans will ever visit a core. We learn about inner space by visiting outer space.”
A pithy soundbite, to be sure, but the ramifications of such an expedition are fascinating to consider; both through the understanding that scientists could gain surrounding the make-up of planets in our solar system, and the closer-to-home financial consequences of bringing an object of such unprecedented value to the green fields of planet Earth.