Space race, phase two

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To boldly go where only billionaires can take us. It was about time, but better late than never: A serious assembly of the rich, powerful and smart has announced its intention to mine asteroids. Part of the project includes creating water reserves in space. Water, found in asteroids, can be used as fuel and provide oxygen - key resources in humanity's quest to venture beyond near-Earth orbit.

Pundits will argue, but it may be the most significant announcement in space exploration since President Kennedy promised America would go to the moon.

It's a wonder this didn't happen sooner. As a tycoon, you can only build so many megayachts before you start being disappointed in yourself. Where's the vision? Where's the sense of destiny?

Well, Eric Anderson, the founder of a space tourism company, and Peter Diamandis, the man behind the X Prize, have joined forces with Google luminaries Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, the son of businessman Ross Perot - Ross Jr., and James Cameron - who constantly disappoints critics with his successes - to create Planetary Resources Inc. They've also got Microsoft's former chief software engineer, Charles Simonyi, on board, as well as NASA manager Chris Lewicki.

It's hard to say which is deeper, their pockets or their talent pool. They can afford to spend, even at a loss, billions of dollars in their quest to pursue what could become the biggest step in human history: expansion beyond Earth.

We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. There are hurdles to overcome and it will be years, if not decades, before the first load of riches is returned to Earth from outer space. In the interim, though, it's time for government to pass the torch: offer incentives and concessions to encourage industry - not handouts, but favourable terms and licensing guarantees for companies that take big gambles on space.

Egos are powerful things. Rich people endow universities with millions to get their names on libraries. What will they give to be remembered as the founders of Sol, a solar system-wide human civilization?

Sounds like a sci-fi movie? Yes, and we're living it.

Organizations: Google, Planetary Resources, Microsoft NASA

Geographic location: America

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