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Asteroid mining and other out-there ideas from the tech titans

April 24, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • A conceptual rendering of what asteroid mining might look like.
A conceptual rendering of what asteroid mining might look like. (Associated Press / Planetary…)

Google Inc. Chief Executive Larry Page and Chairman Eric Schmidt are two of the high-profile backers of Planetary Resources Inc., a newly formed company that plans to spend millions of dollars on the distinctly sci-fi goal of mining the surface of near-Earth asteroids for precious metals and rare metallic elements.

As projects go, this one is definitely ambitious and insane sounding. The plan involves sending "a swarm" of 20-pound satellites that cost as much as $5 million apiece 500 miles from Earth in search of potential platinum-rich asteroids, The Times reported.

If an asteroid appears to be worth mining, the company will send in a fleet of even higher-powered satellites for a closer look, and if it still appears to be worth mining, they'll send in the drilling robots.

Firm has its sights set on mining asteroids

It all sounds a bit crazy to us, but tech billionaires have a pattern of thinking way, way, way outside the box, and they have the cash to do more than dream about their out-there ideas.

To put it all in context, we've listed some of their more out-there ventures below.

The clock that runs for 10,000 years: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos invested $42 million in a clock that will keep ticking for 10,000 years. The project broke ground in 2011 and Brian Eno (of all people) dubbed it "the long now." "If you think something is important, and you think nobody else is going to do it, then it's a useful thing to do," Bezos told Wired.

The elevator to space: In 2011 the New York Times reported that Google was working on a space elevator -- literally an elevator that would go halfway up to the moon. The idea was first proposed in 1895, but no one has figured out how to make it work ... yet.

The self-driving car: Back in 2010 Google announced it had developed technology to make driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient by removing the human driver from the equation. Recently, the company released video of a blind man riding in a self-driving car to Taco Bell.

A serious search for alien life: Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, has spent more than $30 million since 2001 to build the Allen Telescope Array, the first group of telescopes built from the ground up with the intention of monitoring the universe full-time for radio waves that would indicate there is life on other planets.

Recovering Apollo 11 rocket engines from the ocean floor: Amazon's Bezos has his hand in a lot of out-there projects. Just recently he announced plans to recover one or more of the five F-1 engines that helped launch Apollo 11 to the moon. According to Bezos, they've been found, lying 14,000 feet below the surface of the ocean.

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