Asteroids could pay for so much space exploration. We just need to mine those valuable resources – and duck a direct hit.

Asteroids are the remnants of our solar system’s youthful exuberance, the leftover crumbs from when the planets formed. For much of the space age, asteroids were ignored in favor of the far more glamorous planets, and the Moon. The asteroids – dark, misshapen rocks, hard to see and hard to find – have long flown beneath our notice.

But that was a mistake. They have a crucial role to play in the future of our species – in fact, the survival and flourishing of humanity are tied up with asteroids. There are three reasons. They bear messages from the beginnings of the solar system, before our Earth came into being, and how we got here matters to where we’re going. They are also hoards of resources that might lead us to a future without scarcity. And last – a minor detail – a single asteroid could wipe us off the face of our planet. Let’s look at each in turn.

Author: Martin Elvis is a senior astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. He is the author of Asteroids: How Love, Fear, and Greed Will Determine Our Future in Space (2021).

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