43 years later, new ways emerging to explore space - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

43 years later, new ways emerging to explore space

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A mock-up of an asteroid and a concept asteroid harvester hovering over Earth. A mock-up of an asteroid and a concept asteroid harvester hovering over Earth.
Planetary Resources has developed the Arkyd-101 space telescope with remote sensing capability. The telescope will gather data on the composition of near-Earth asteroids to determine their commercial value. (Source: Planetary Resources Inc.) Planetary Resources has developed the Arkyd-101 space telescope with remote sensing capability. The telescope will gather data on the composition of near-Earth asteroids to determine their commercial value. (Source: Planetary Resources Inc.)

BELLVUE, WA (RNN) - In the 1960s, the American public was going wild with space fever, dreaming like never before of science fiction turned reality.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong left hearts and minds near to bursting when he became the first man to step foot on the moon, famously saying that it was "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Unfortunately, the government hasn't been able to sustain its space program. But for the space geek in all of us, there's no need to fret, because a bunch of innovative engineers announced in April that they were teaming with a bunch of really rich people to get back out there, explore space and mining asteroids.

And now, they want your help.

Planetary Resources Inc. announced in early July it will start a campaign on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to get the public involved in their galactic quest to mine asteroids for resources scarce on Earth. The company also will use the campaign to shore up resources - which are already pretty substantial.

The company is backed by such big names as Hollywood director and deep-sea explorer James Cameron and Google co-founder Larry Page.

The company said in a blog post it was "overwhelmed" with support from the public and the number of people who have asked how they could get involved in making science fiction a reality.

The company is currently working on building telescopes to search for the most suitable asteroids for its mining program.

"These are spacecraft that we're going to use at Planetary Resources to identify near-Earth approaching asteroids, to actually find out which of these are coming close to the Earth and which of these have resources of benefit to humanity," Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis said.

After much thought and deliberation, they've decided to build an extra one for those interested in donating to their Kickstarter campaign.

"We are building the world's most sophisticated, high-tech, low-Earth orbit imaging spacecraft," Diamandis said in a YouTube video soliciting the public for Kickstarter reward ideas.

On Kickstarter, potential donators can choose a "reward" based on how much they're willing to donate to a project.

The company released 12 of these possible reward ideas Monday after weeks of brainstorming. They asked people to use Facebook to "like" rewards they would "actually" purchase.

Donations range from $10 to a whopping $10,000. Interestingly enough, 80 people have said they would donate $10,000 to the program (and we're assuming this doesn't include investors who have already put hundreds of thousands of dollars behind the project).

[To see a full list of the potential Kickstarter rewards, check out the Planetary Resources blog.]

Among the things people can get for their money are a five-photo time lapse sequence of any place the telescope can see over the course of a year, an "I'm An Asteroid Miner" T-shirt, and a model of one of the telescopes they plan to send into space.

As of Wednesday, the most popular item is a $100 "Founding Explorer" donation, which would give a person a high-resolution photo of a place on Earth or a galactic body for their personal use plus the rewards suggested for the lower "Founding Member" and "Founding Miner" levels.

The company plans to send its first telescope into space within the next two years.

Planetary Resources has already signed up with Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne program, which will eventually send satellites from Planetary Resources into the great beyond on the hunt for asteroids.

Asteroids often contain such vital resources as metals in the platinum group that are used in catalytic converters and hydrogen fuel cells. The rarity of the metals on Earth means they often sell for astronomical prices.

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