Carlin: Wall Street Owns Washington

Paul B. Farrell: Asteroid mining 2022 a $1 trillion bet for Earth


By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch


NASA

Billionaire capitalists saving the Earth? You bet. While environmentalists regularly accuse giant capitalist entities like ExxonMobil, Cargill, Koch, Massey and others of depleting nonrenewable energy and other natural resources, a new enlightened class of capitalists is betting new space-age technologies will discover and restore resources and make them a fortune while saving the world from a disastrous ending.

And Planetary Resources is the solution.

“I would love to take the company public someday,” says company Co-Chairman Eric Anderson, an aerospace engineer and pioneer in the commercial space-flight industry, along with Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X Prize and Singularity University.

“I think it’s really important for the public to have a chance to be part of this, but not until we’re ready,” Anderson told Bloomberg News a few months ago. “We need to fly to space first.” Well, listen up investors and space enthusiasts, it will happen sooner than you think.

In a NewScientist interview with Paul Marks, Planetary Resources President Chris Lewicki said: “Yes. We’re launching the first telescopes in 18 months, and we’re actually building them ourselves in our own facility … We have a team of more than 30 engineers with long experience of doing this kind of thing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, myself included. Many of our team worked on designing and building NASA’s Curiosity rover, and I was a system engineer on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and flight director when we landed them on Mars.”

Yes, if anyone can do it these guys can.

Prospecting on asteroids before 2022, IPO on horizon much sooner

In Bloomberg’s “Google-backed asteriod mining venture attracts billionaires,” Jesse Riseborough and Thomas Biesheuvel write that Anderson wants them “to be the first to harness potentially trillions of dollars of minerals including platinum group metals by using robotic technology to mine asteroids,” adding that while Planetary Resources has “enough funding for several years of operations, including its initial prospecting missions, the Seattle-based company would consider an initial public offering for future financing needs.”

So get on a list if you want to get a piece of the IPO action later. Another big reason: Google CEO Larry Page and many of his billionaire friends are backing this new Planetary Resources asteroid-mining venture, a potentially multitrillion-dollar company. Remember Google’s original share price went from $85 in 2004 to over $700 today.

Yes, but the biggest reason you need to take this venture to heart is because Planet Earth is rapidly running out of natural resources. As a result, the success of Planetary Resources is also vital to America’s national security as well as the survival of our civilization.

Sound familiar? Yes, which is why this opportunity is more than a century ahead of the sci-fi version. Remember James Cameron’s blockbuster film “Avatar” set in the year 2154? The space traveling Resources Development Corporation, an American mining conglomerate, attacks the Na’vi indigenous tribes on the Pandora moon. They wage war over mining rights to unobtanium, a powerful new energy resource, needed back on Earth to save our planet, where population growth and demand is exhausting limited natural resources, resulting in a dying civilization.

Obviously a metaphor for today’s global threats. Oscar winner Cameron, a committed explorer, is also an adviser to the Planetary Resources venture.

Private capitalism saving planet resources … without government money

But there’s an even bigger reason the Planetary Resources deal is historic: Capitalism is upstaging government. Recently the editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review Jason Pontin published a challenging and provocative article, “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems,” with a cover quote of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “You promised me Mars colonies. I got Facebook.”

So why hasn’t America risen to the challenge with anything like the Apollo moon mission? Pontin’s answer: Because America’s government no longer thinks big, can’t think long-term and no longer invests in “Big Problems.”

Instead the Review piece criticized Silicon Valley, as well as many of America’s leading innovative high-tech geniuses, for focusing on short-term money-makers like Facebook and other “Small Problems” — Twitter, Instagram, Farmville. Why? We can’t go big because American government and the rest of the planet’s governments are so fragmented, competitive and myopic they are incapable of “solving Big Problems.”

Well, things will be different in the future: It looks like Planetary Resources is not only going to prove Pontin wrong, they are upping the ante, outbidding the legacy of the government-backed Apollo moon shot with an incredible feat of private capitalism making a bet on the future of the world that historians will call a game-changer.

Planetary Resources Team: NASA engineers and hyper-space fanatics

One of the more crucial analytical tools for any investor is knowledge of who’s backing the venture, who is grounding the deal the same way President John F. Kennedy anchored the Apollo moon mission a half century ago. Remember, with Boeing, Douglas, North American and IBM on board as prime contractors and 250 subcontractors Kennedy was able to confidently promise:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” You hear the same confidence and enthusiasm here from the team and backers in the Planetary Resources which includes, in addition to Anderson and Diamandis:

Executives/Engineers: President Chris Lewicki, a former NASA engineer and flight director for Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Vice President Chris Voorhees in charge of spacecraft development, also joined from NASA’s projects, including the Mars Science Laboratory. They have put together an operating team of 30 NASA engineering veterans.

Mission Advisers: In addition to James Cameron: Thomas Jones, veteran NASA astronaut. Retired Gen. Michael Moseley, chairman Gulf Alliance Company. Mark Sykes, CEO Planetary Science Institute, Sara Seager, MIT professor of planetary science, David Vaskevitch, former Microsoft CTO. Attorney John Villa.

Financial Investors: Google CEO Larry Page, worth $20.3 billion on the Forbes 400. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, $7.5 billion. K. Ram Shriram, Google Venture capitalist, $1.6 billion. Ross Perot Jr., chairman, the Perot Group, $1.4 billion. And Charles Simonyi, Microsoft’s chief architect in the development of MS Word and Excel, who has already traveled twice aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

Mission partners: Planetary Resources already has a deal signed with Richard Branson. In NewScientist, Anderson says Planetary Resources plans to launch at least 10 of their asteroid-spotting low-Earth orbit space telescopes on Virgin Galactic spacecraft “in the next five years.” In addition, “the company hopes to sign an accord with a large mining company within months and is seeking to partner with more firms.”

Historic mission: Free-market capitalism, the new environmentalists

The Planetary Resources venture is unique and historic in two powerful ways: This is the first real merger of capitalists and environmentalists working for the good of all. And Planetary Resources is free-market capitalism at its best, “solving a big problem” government cannot solve, saving the planet.

Yes, Planetary Resources is a for-profit business venture. But one visit to their site and you sense it is much more. Their mission statement has a metaphysical quality: “Planetary Resources is bringing the natural resources of space within humanity’s economic sphere of influence, propelling our future into the 21st century and beyond.” Our “mission is clear: apply commercial, innovative techniques to explore space. We will develop low-cost robotic spacecraft to explore the thousands of resource-rich asteroids within our reach. We will learn everything we can about them, then develop the most efficient capabilities to deliver these resources directly to both space-based and terrestrial customers. Asteroid mining may sound like fiction, but it’s just science.”

You can sense a new world of opportunities, an energy like July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo 11 lunar module onto the dusty moon surface and took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Everyone across the planet felt part of a new collective consciousness with a common goal for humanity. Now, in merging capitalism with environmentalism, saving the planet seems quite obvious. What historic words will tell of Planetary Resources first landing on an asteroid around 2022?