/ Modified dec 8, 2015 3:26 p.m.

Law Opens Door for Mining The Moon, Asteroids, Other Planets

University of Arizona alumnus leads exploration 'from science fiction to science fact.'

Chris Lewicki Planetary Resources, Inc., president and chief engineer Chris Lewicki
Planetary Resources, Inc.

A new law allows U.S. companies to explore asteroids, the moon and other planets for resources that can be acquired and used for space missions or returned to Earth for sale.

University of Arizona aerospace engineering alumnus Chris Lewicki is president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources Inc., of Redmond, Wash. The company is one of several that will benefit from the law, signed by President Barack Obama Nov. 25.

Lewicki said the legislation allows a private space resources company to keep anything it obtains from an asteroid. Mining for water and other resources is not 50 years in the future, he said.

Lewicki expects his company to launch a commercial prospecting trip to a near-Earth asteroid by the end of the decade. Lewicki said there are about 13,000 asteroids whose orbits approach Earth, and it will take exploration to figure out which will be the first to produce those water resources.

“This is how something turns from science fiction into science fact, and we are right in the middle of it now,” Lewicki said.

Water can shield long-distance space travelers from radiation, just as it does on Earth, and can be used for human consumption. Its element oxygen can be used for breathing, and hydrogen is a component of rocket fuel. That last use is key for extending space travel beyond current and historical limits by allowing refueling in space, Lewicki said.

“Taking water from asteroids and turning it into rocket fuel can help us really extend our reach of humanity and our economy into space,” he said.

The Arizona Science Desk is a collaboration of public broadcasting entities in the state, including Arizona Public Media.

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