Space Colonialism is a thing now
“By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.”
With these words, spoken on the campaign trail in 2012, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pulled off a hat-trick of self-sabotage. The line is a model of rhetorical economy: rarely have hubris, ignorance and jingoism sat so comfortably together in a single sentence.
Gingrich’s ideas about space exploration are not only deluded, but are also outmoded. His words appeal to a conception of Manifest Destiny that is rooted in idealism rather than economics. Despite his hollow talk of the lucrative scientific discoveries and tourist revenue dangling above the stratosphere, Gingrich is clearly a man who wants to boldly go where no man has gone before just ‘cause. This sense of adventure may be laudable, but it is unrealistic. Now, as in the 17th century, we expand into new frontiers in pursuit of resources, not knowledge.
Enter Deep Space Industries. In January of 2013, almost exactly one year after Gingrich’s comments, DSI declared that it would become the first deep space mining company. DSI will focus on mining asteroids, which are chalk full of minerals like platinum, gold and in-demand elements like Iridium and Palladium.
DSI’s underlying business model of finding scarce resources in inhospitable places isn’t particularly original, but it does bring the international scramble for resources to a whole new level. Throw a few interstellar rockets into the mix and China’s mineral-grabbing efforts in Africa and South America seem positively quaint. Admittedly, DSI’s efforts are still in their infancy, but the company already has its a strategy laid out. In its first years, DSI will focus on unmanned, robotic mining. Manned missions come later, presumably after the earth becomes so thoroughly depleted of resources that space miners become a viable economic option. When that happens, colonies are sure to follow. By the end of our lifetimes, we may even see Gingrich’s prophecy of a moon base come true. But we seriously doubt that it will be American.