NASA may return to space after all–but not to explore, to MINE the valuable minerals that are on asteroids, in a NEW TYPE of "Gold Rush." And we may use robots to do the dirty work.

Space scientists think that robots will be the astronauts of the future. They’ll explore the universe, find and identify extraterrestrial life and even clean up space debris in the process. In the April 24th edition of the New York Times, Kenneth Chang writes: "Perhaps it will be a platinum rush that finally opens up the final frontier."

A company called Planetary Resources plans to mine asteroids as they pass close by the earth, since they may contain precious metals like platinum. Chang quotes company CEO Eric C. Anderson as saying, "If you believe that resources in space are critical towards a space-faring future, you will inevitably come to the result that the asteroids–in fact, the near-Earth asteroids–are the steppingstones to the rest of the solar system. There are probably about 1,500 near-Earth asteroids that are energetically easier to reach than the surface of the moon."

And quotes electrical engineer John D. Matthews as saying, "Only by developing and deploying self-replicating robotic spacecraft–and the incumbent communications systems–can the human race efficiently explore even the asteroid belt, let alone the vast reaches of the Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud, and beyond."

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