Scientists have called for the protection and preservation of planets, moons and other heavenly bodies such as asteroids from space rampant mining and industrial exploitation.
In a proposal, the scientific community has said that more than 85% of the solar system should be saved from human exploitation, leaving around an eighth for space firms to mine for precious metals, minerals and other valuable materials.
They said that the solar system should be preserved as official ‘space wilderness’ and the primary goal is to prevent a future where all resources within the reach of humanity are exhausted.
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory senior astrophysicist Martin Elvis said: “If we don’t think about this now, we will go ahead as we always have, and in a few hundred years we will face an extreme crisis, much worse than we have on Earth now.
“Once you’ve exploited the solar system, there’s nowhere left to go.”
Space mining companies, including the UK’s Asteroid Mining Corporation, have set their sights on iron and precious metals present in asteroids, along with valuable minerals and water on the moon.
Space mining companies claim that extracting minerals on other planets could help protect the environment on Earth.
Asteroid Mining plans to send a satellite into orbit in the coming years to prospect for nearby asteroids.
Precious metals such as platinum and gold could be recovered and brought to Earth, and most of the mined material could be used to build habitats on the Moon and make rocket fuel.
The European Space Agency (ESA) also plans to establish a Moon village, where buildings and equipment will be installed on the lunar surface.
Water ice beneath the lunar poles could be split into hydrogen and oxygen to produce fuel for probes that would be launched from space instead of Earth.
However, scientists said that once companies start making money by selling the materials back on Earth, it could trigger a rush with several companies also wanting to take up the activity.
Along with King’s College London philosopher Tony Milligan, Elvis estimated that an annual growth rate of 3.5% would use up an eighth of the solar system’s realistic resources in 400 years, after which there would be only 60 years to stop the mining and avoid exhausting the supply.
As mining the Sun or extracting materials from Jupiter are currently out of bounds for humans, the scientists said that asteroids, the Moon, Mars and other rocky planets would be the targets for space miners.
In the forthcoming issue of Acta Astronautica, the scientists write that the Valles Marineris on Mars could deserve protection similar to the Grand Canyon on Earth.
Elvis said: “If everything goes right, we could be sending our first mining missions into space within ten years.
“Once it starts and somebody makes an enormous profit, there will be the equivalent of a gold rush. We need to take it seriously.”