Prospecting for unobtainium – the new frontier

Like most sci-fi movies and novels they tend to be founded somewhat in current reality and now some reality that Avatar is no different – NASA have developed an ‘offplanet’ prospecting robot!

Just in case you haven’t seen Avatar the gist of the story is that ‘man’ has discovered this rare and very valuable resource called “unobtainium” in a far off planet. ‘Man’ sets up a colony of the planet and goes about trying to work out how to keep the indigenous population happy while they pillage their planet, well like most historically similar tales it all goes wrong and ‘man’ tries to wipe out the indigenous population.

Back to current reality.

It takes on average more than 20 years from finding the likelihood of rare metal or resource underground to being at the point of extracting. So the prospecting for new resources that we are currently doing should result in full scale extraction in 20 years time. On average the stuff we are digging out of the ground now was discovered over 20 years ago, we just needed to wait until people would pay more for it than it cost to dig out of the ground.

The number of finds that the prosectors are making are running out and we are having to go deeper into the ground and oceans to find the remaining resources on planet Earth. The cost of extraction is increasing. When oil was first discovered we got 100 energy units out for every 1 unit of energy we used to extract it, now its closer to 3 energy units out for every 1 unit of energy in and oil from tar sands is even less than that.

But we need to keep finding stuff, so we can keep making stuff, so we can keep buying stuff, so we can keep making profit, so we can keep GDP growing, so we can borrow more, so we can….. you get the picture.

So if our planet Earth resources are running out what to do?

Go find the unobtainium.

And what do we need to do that – offplanet prospecting robots. To be more precise RASSOR, which stands for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot.

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Scary but true.

So is this the right thing to do? Should we extend our boundaries of impact to beyond our own planet? We are faced with reaching the limit of our own resources so should we learn how to live differently or learn how to obtain the ‘unobtainium’?

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