Space Mining: Out of this world hype?

Why mining in space is not the answer to all our problems on Earth.

Research by Dr Kathryn Moore, the University of Exeter, and illustration by Fanny Didou, Sketching the Move.

1. Mining in space, or off-Earth extraction, is often framed as both complex and simple.

“Visionaries elevate the terrestrial activity of mining to the extra-terrestrial environment in a fantastical Martianist narrative while a counter-Martianist narrative simplifies extra-terrestrial prospecting and extractive challenges.”

2. This makes it seem innovative and excitingly possible.

    “As successful metaphor, mundane mining is elevated to the fantastical by exciting narratives that suggest a solution to terrestrial challenges of production and consumption…[whereas a statement from Deep Space Industries] echoes the perception that access to vast resources and deployment of mining is simple…It reduces the complex to the simple, in a dialogue that may create false expectations.”

    3. But these narratives are put forward for specific reasons.

      “Out-of-this-world styling aids in the self-promotional strategies of the narrators, where consumerist soundbites create public influence by engaging audiences, promoting an acceptance of ideas, and altering audience values.”

      4. In reality, most planets have fewer and poorer quality minerals than Earth, it will take too long. These escapist narratives will leave many behind.

        “The infancy of prospecting and limited engagement with the realities of terrestrial mining practice suggest that off-Earth extraction is a distant prospect.”

        5. We are looking at off-earth extraction with an earth-based perspective, and making flawed assumptions

          “In this sense, there is no out-of-this-world location. Instead, there is anthropocentric expansion into the cosmos and continued productivity at the expense of environmental progress, such that the same fundamental risks arise from viewing the abiotic as unresponsive and endlessly available to support the biotic (humans).”

          6. In reality, we need behaviour change, and to refocus on real-world solutions – hope and pragmatism.

            “Debates about out-of-this-world hype, the limiting factors to access raw materials beyond the Earth, and an immature (high-risk) safety culture for off-Earth extraction, reveal the imperative for multi-actor transformative behavioural change… a direct and practical dialogue with the mining industry may serve to refocus attention on the implementation of the real world solutions that are possible in an economic climate that is engineered for socio-political and environmental outcomes.”

            Read the full research paper here.

            Read the Conversation article here.

            See more of Fanny Didou’s illustrations here.

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