Other futurists were even more optimistic about the prospect of boring out asteroids. Author Dandridge Cole even saw the asteroids as possible space habitats once they’d been mined of their precious resources. In his 1965 book Beyond Tomorrow: The Next 50 Years in Space, he explains that these “gold mines in the sky” would eventually be completely hollowed out and designed to fit up to a million people living in an “inside-out world.”
One of the accompanying illustrations, by artist Roy Scarfo, shows a hollow asteroid complete with rivers, trees and farming equipment. The rock habitat would be made to spin down a central axis point in order to produce artificial gravity. His illustration is far from the cold mechanised vision of space travel people of the 1960s had come to expect and seeks to assure people that even though the space colonisers may find their orientation inside a hollow asteroid confusing at first – those born inside, “the natives” would find it liberating.
However, these [even] more far-fetched ideas were a rarity. Instead, the economic benefits of metals from these great hunks of space rock were repeated time and time again.
This was to be achieved by moving asteroids closer to Earth – the preferred first step towards mining asteroids throughout the 1970s. For example, an article in the Coshocton Tribune from 18 March 1976 headlined “We will be mining outer space in future, two MIT men predict” detailed the plans of Dr Thomas B McCord, and Dr Michael J Gaffey. “The miners of the future could work in space suits and ride-home on rocket-powered asteroids,” the article breathlessly starts before going on to explain that the two scientists believe the best way of making a profitable business would be to choose an asteroid “about one kilometre in diameter, attach a rocket to it, and gradually move it to an orbit closer to Earth.”
The idea, would then be to mine the asteroid for iron and nickel – two metals which, it says, were proving more difficult to mine on Earth. "We're not trying to define precisely how or what should be done but to show that it is feasible,” it quotes McCord as saying. “There's no question that more serious studies will have to be done.”
The pair were also responsible for other ideas, including one in which colonies of miners would live on an asteroid as it revolved around the sun, occasionally sending their raw materials to orbiting “space factories”. As if this idea was not already complicated enough, they envisaged the pure processed ingots then falling back to Earth and splashing into the oceans.
It builds on an earlier idea outlined in another Radebaugh strip from Christmas Eve 1958, called “Ore chute from space”. The strip outlined an idea by a British astronomer called Professor Zdenek Kopal, who – rather than wanting to mine asteroids – had set his sights on the Moon. His concept was “based on the fact that lunar gravity is far less than the Earth’s.
“Moon minerals, therefore, could be lifted without too much difficulty up to where earth gravity would overcome the moon’s pull,” it reads. Once outside of the grip of the Moon, “such material could simply be allowed to fall free along an invisible space pathway to Earth,” eventually hitting a “desolate desert area”.
Space for profit
Over the following decades the Moon and asteroids, are used interchangeably by future-gazing space pioneers, who seem to play a game of astronomical one-upmanship in terms of the technology they believe will be developed, the size of the operations that will be built and the scale of the returns.