Gold rush to mine precious metals in outer space

Artist's rendition of asteroid mining
Planetary Resources

(CBS News) It's not science fiction. Some well-known investors want to send robots into space, land on asteroids and dig for precious metals.

Space tourism pioneers Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis live by the idea that the future is now. "This company is not about thinking and dreaming about asteroid mining," Anderson said. "This company is about creating a space economy beyond the earth."

As far as they're concerned, mining asteroids in space is soon to be fact. The two men, backed by wealthy investors like Google CEO Larry Page and filmmaker James Cameron, say asteroids offer rich sources of metals like platinum - which go for $1,500 an ounce.

"This is smart money investing in one of the largest commercial opportunities ever," Diamandis said, "going to space to gain resources for the benefit humanity."

Within two years, the men want their company Planetary Resources to launch up to five telescopes for close looks at the 9,000 asteroids orbiting near Earth. Asteroids also contain chemicals like hydrogen and oxygen needed as man moves deeper into space.

"All great ideas have a flavor of science fiction," said Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium. "Otherwise it's an ordinary idea."

(At left, watch Tyson's full interview.)

"It's more than just harnessing the asteroid," Tyson said. "It's creating an entire business model that gets you asteroids in the first place."

Denton Ebel, a geologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York said, "They are like ways to live off the land as we explore the solar system. Our future in space is going to be dependent upon using the resources that are there."

They hope to launch space crafts called archids for prospecting by 2020. They're more vague on when their robots would do the actual mining. "There's a significant probability we might fail," Anderson said. "But we believe in it anyway, because we think attempting this think moving the needle for space is worth it."

Having already raised the money they say they need to get started, the two now say they're hiring.

  • Jim Axelrod
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    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.