Eureka! Asteroid Mining

Planetary Resources exploring near-earth asteroids with Arkyd-100 and Arkyd-200 spacecraft. Credit: © Copyright 2013 Planetary Resources

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About This Episode

“Everything we fight wars over on Earth – metals, minerals, energy, real estate – those things are in near infinite quantities in space. The Earth is a crumb in a supermarket filled with resources.” And that’s just a taste of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with the visionary Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Planetary Resources and founder of the X-Prize Foundation. They’ll discuss asteroid mining, space exploration with PR’s Arkyd-100 and 200 spacecraft, the role of greed in advancing our society and the economic and industrial impact of rare elements becoming abundant. You’ll learn about the different types of asteroids Planetary Resources is searching for, from carbonaceous chondrites that can be used as fuel depots for missions to the Moon and Mars, to PGM-rich asteroids worth billions. Plus, you’ll find out why comic co-host Chuck Nice calls Peter “a real-life James Bond villain.”

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Eureka! Asteroid Mining.

In This Episode

Music in This Episode

Episode Topics

  • This is cool – but wouldn’t it be far easier to mine on the moon since it’s much larger and not going anywhere?

  • Brandon

    One advantage of asteroids over the moon is not having to escape the gravity of the moon. Once a pipeline is established with resources coming in regularly, the distance of asteroids is a non issue.

  • jake

    please, for the love of god reply to me so I can find you some fitting unlicensed music that isn’t absolute rubbish, ie; mainstream Far East Movement? Really? Not only does that song not fit this show, in any way shape or form, you could have chosen practically any other song created and made a better choice. /rant

  • Nathan

    Thanks for the Jonathan Coulton. Nice to have some music that doesn’t sound like it came from a 13-year-old’s iPod. Oh SNAP!!

  • You know Larry, I’m pretty sure they haven’t thought of that. You should tell them.

  • Ian

    To answer your question, Larry, (although I’m sure you would prefer somebody from Startalk to answer this) is that there aren’t really any valuable resources on the moon that aren’t already abundant on Earth. I’m not an expert by any means, so if anybody else has any insight on how I may be incorrect, please mention it.

    p.s. Neil, if happen you see any of this, saw you recently in Iowa City, great lecture! You probably won’t remember, but I was second in line for the book signing, where you pointed out my Carl Sagan shirt. Thank you for these outstanding podcasts that I have learned so much from.

  • Tilted


  • Brandon

    @Ian Actually, that’s not entirely correct. The moon is quite abundant in various metals that are pretty difficult to find on Earth that are easily found on asteroids. Just like the guest said in this podcast, many of these resources mined on Earth are found where meteorites struck the Earth. The Moon is quite obviously teeming with such impact sites. So these resources are not only common but very easy to find on the Moon. Just find a crater and start digging! But like I said, it’s much more difficult to haul a bunch of rock off of a moon than it is to just change the trajectory of an asteroid.

  • The problem with mining the moon is that anything interesting is buried deep under a load of rock – unlike the earth it doesn’t have the geological process of plate tectonics that brings heavier elements near enough to the surface for us to get at them. Asteroids however have these heavier elements right near their surface

  • Jason

    Ian, Helium-3 is more abundant the Moon than on the Earth, and could be a source of energy in the future. Larry, I think the key obstacle is just the greater gravity of the Moon which wouldn’t be as much of a problem on an asteroid which is less massive.

  • Balls

    Tap that asteroid t-shirts?

  • Tom

    The music used to be really good on these shows

  • love theshow

    is the music a bit too loud sometimes? sometimes the music ends up blaring through the speakers, then the speaking audio is barely audible at the same speaker volume.

  • Ian

    Good point, Brandon and Jason. I hadn’t thought of that.

  • I worry that mining asteroids is going to create more wars. We are a greedy species as Chuck pointed out, and while our greed causes us to want to mine asteroids, I can see how people may start wars over them. I see the usefulness, but I’m afraid we’ll take our ugliness into space and fight here more over those resources. Great show, though. Chuck you are funny! Love it that Neil has comedians on with him.

  • Cicada

    Wow, didn’t expect to hear a Something For Kate song all of a sudden. Very nice.

  • Thalassicus

    It’s clear the music is chosen because the names of the tracks fit the topic, so it’s strange to critique the selection of artists. There’s probably not many songs out there about asteroid mining.

  • Dc

    Very good podcast, Mr. Tyson. But could you please make your webmaster upload these podcasts so that they could be played on iOS devices? I can’t seem to play it on my iPad. It randomly skips back to the beginning after a short while…

    • Jeff

      DC, could you please give us a little more information… what version of iOs, type of device, and if you’re using an app like the podcast app, that too? Thanks, and we’ll look into it.

  • Raechel (aka Perkey Felwitch on Twitter)

    Very interesting episode. Mr. Diamandis is very informed and forward thinking. Thank you for all of the episodes, I enjoy them very much.

  • Dan Morlan

    “People are greedy…” That’s an interesting, and broad-brushed abstraction. People have a desire for self-improvement. Self-improvement manifests itself (culturally) in the acquisition of wealth. As things exist now, even the freest nations in the world have a population whose freedom is directly tied to their spending power. Rather than a celebration of the potential access to further and less-costly pieces of technological tools, the focus becomes, mostly due to competition, and greed brought on by the continued use of money, particularly for things that are absolutely necessary for SURVIVAL, the potential monetary wealth that this kind of enterprise might provide for those cunning enough to get a hold of these resources. My world view celebrates the acquisition of knowledge, and the creation of abundance through technology regardless of where it comes from.

    If the world could learn to better cooperate, and hold an overall world view that promoted what was best for ALL, including non-human species, taking into account the resources, and environment as a whole, underscoring the need to consider air and water as things that are extremely precious, and not to be contaminated, while understanding that what is good for all of humanity as a WHOLE is also good for the individual.

    I am personally excited about the prospect of mining precious metals from asteroids, particularly if they broaden global access to communications. The easier we can all connect with one another, I think, due to our mutual and identical fundamental needs, the more the worlds’ peoples will see one another as human beings, and that someday these artificial borders we’ve put up will disappear. I know it’s a pipe dream for now, but technology has a way of changing things forever.



  • leo

    I like the idea, and it sounds very do-able based what he had to say. But the hosts just kept on laughing at this idea without giving enough scientific reasons!!! I really want to know from an engineering point of view, do we have the technology to do the mining?? if not, why????

    also i am kind of curious, how do you bring it back? in what volume can you bring it back? It is still too hard for us to land with accuracy in the ocean, so how is it possible to bring that much material back on earth without in-danger anyone?


    • Jeff

      Leo, as far as I got from listening to the show, we do have the technology, and Planetary Resources is making this a reality. Maybe you could get a bit more specific about your question?

  • ryan

    Is there anywhere that we could hear the interview with Peter Diamandis in full?

  • Dan

    I have worked in the marine transport and aviation industry so i have a good idea on what is involved transporting heavy payloads, I understand the technology is there to explore and perhaps even mine astroids cost not withstanding. The cargo weight of an ore carrier is in the range of 100,000 tons, that is just one load not the whole mine output. That weight is 500-1000 times what our largest rockets weigh fully loaded, Moving that in space it may be relatively easy to get back to Earth (to orbit anyway), but how do you bring it down to the surface?

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  • grayrain

    I had to stop listening to this early on. This Peter Diamandis guy is totally out of touch of reality. Every piece of garbage he’s spewing about “humans uplifted by hunting resources” is complete bullshit. Greed has never progressed humanity – it’s only slowed it down.

    Who are all these great scientists and humanists that have made the big changes in history? The ones that were fulled by obsessive passion. Who were the ones who love to bomb it all to hell? Oh, typical greedy idiots who want so badly to continue on their pointless existence. Instead of combine resources and knowledge to fix problems, they rather kill others for what they have so that they can add another story to their dam houses.

    Greed is a cheap substitute for passion, and all it leads to are monopolies that love to patent/slow everything down. That’s effectively what religion is as well – a monopoly on thought, done to fuel the egos of the few in power. Who knows where our technology/species may be have been now had we not constantly given into idiots that love to hoard all the resources/thoughts. They then say their idiocy progressed us, bullshit. It’s just made us blind to all their mediocrity.

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  • playyourpart

    Thrusters, Gravity, & Math. 🙂

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Music in This Episode