Along with the obvious goal of expanding humanity beyond our own corner of the galaxy, space exploration brings another very practical use — mining for stuff we don't have much of on Earth.
The private space firm Planetary Resources, which is funded by tech giants like Larry Page and Richard Branson, has developed a new spacecraft that is essentially tasked with exploring our solar system in search of asteroids we could mine for rare elements. The team launched the Arkyd 3 “prospector” ship just a few weeks ago from the International Space Station (ISS). If the software and tech tests out well, the company will send out the Arkyd 6 by the end of the year to start the search.
Considering we already know how to land a spacecraft on a comet (Rosetta FTW), eventual mining missions could definitely be viable in the years to come. It could also help kick-start some economic interest in space travel, which is always a nice catalyst when you’re looking to grow a high-cost industry. Along with the search for rare metals such as neodymium and yttrium, the mission will also be scouting out potential water deposits on asteroids. So once we eventually get astronauts out there, they might need to find something to drink (and to make fuel).
Call Bruce Willis and the gang from Armageddon, because we might just need some space miners soon.