“I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the Volcano blows” – Mr. James Buffet
On a day on which some portion of the U.S. population may be prone to a contemplating a permanent change of address, perhaps it is time to consider the long term prospects of what may be the the ultimate soon-to-be-accessible libertarian frontier, the asteroids.
Here at least, there is good news. Last week, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center announced the discovery of the 15,000th Near Earth Asteroid, officially designated 2016 TB57. Estimated to be some 15-35 meters across, as destinations go, it may not be at the top of anyone’s itinerary, but at this point the sheer number of positively identified NEA’s is becoming impressive. And the number is growing, with nearly 200 more located since 2016 TB57.
And then of course, there are the Main Belt Asteroids, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Wrapping one’s mind around the sheer number of places to go and get away from it all might be difficult if it weren’t for Asterank, a wonderful tool developed by Ian Webster and now owned by Planetary Resources. By combining known asteroid orbital characteristics with estimates of their makeup and corresponding potential economic value, all displayed in a zoomable, rotating 3-d map of the solar system, Asterank does a remarkable job of conveying just how much potential wealth is out there. The answer is trillions, none of which is yet tied to any known superpac, bundler or shady foundation.
Eventually of course, the mining “droids” will arrive, sent by companies like Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries. By that time, who knows, maybe they will be accused of exporting domestic jobs too.
In the long run however, as long as there is a frontier, there is reason for hope. And who can put a price on freedom anyway?