Mystery company backed by James Cameron and Google executives may be an asteroid mining project

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MIT's Technology Review has just gotten news of a mysterious new project that claims it will "create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'" Space exploration company Planetary Resources will be unveiled in a conference call on Tuesday, April 24th. Besides the audacious announcement, which promises to "overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP," what makes this unique is its high-profile support group. The venture is backed by Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, director James Cameron, and politician Ross Perot's son, among others.

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We're left to ponder, however, what Planetary Resources will actually do. Technology Review speculates that the project is an asteroid mining operation, reasoning that the other natural resources we need — an Earth-like habitat and supply of fossil fuels — aren't going to be found in space any time soon. Looking at the evidence, asteroid mining seems pretty likely at this point, especially since X Prize founder and perpetual optimist Peter Diamandis is at the head of the operation. In 2005, Diamandis appeared at TED describing an extraterrestrial environment where "everything we hold of value on this planet — metal and minerals and real estate and energy" are available in "infinite quantities." He specifically singled out asteroid mining, claiming that he could finance mining a "20 trillion dollar" asteroid full of nickel-iron alloy by speculating in the precious metals market.

The three other members listed — entrepreneur Eric Anderson, astronaut Tom Jones, and former NASA mission manager Chris Lewicki — will almost certainly affect the project, but it's more difficult to tie their work to a potential goal. Eric Anderson's experience is primarily in space tourism, which could create a new industry but probably wouldn't add up to trillions of dollars, and Jones and Lewicki have stayed mum on any grand plans.

Next week, we'll be finding out for certain what's going on, and then Planetary Resources will have to start actually making good on its impressive claims. The event will apparently be streamed, and tickets are being sold on the Museum of Flight's page, although the information there makes no mention of a new company.

Regardless of what Planetary Resources turns out to be, its backers aren't the only ones interested in exploring space. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who we interviewed last month, has pushed for a modern space race, and private company SpaceX may be building its own "commercial Cape Canaveral" in Texas. You can see our full show with Dr. Tyson here. — memes and all.

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