Seattle-based Asteroid Mining Company Is Serious. No, Really.
Most of the time when a company pops up calling itself something like Planetary Resources, Inc., it's probably selling "sustainable" laundry detergent or other inane household items that belie the epicness of its name.
I'm happy to declare, however, that Planetary Resources are actually just as ambitious as their title suggests. They recently announced their intentions to begin a decades-long process of research, development, and exploration. The object? Near-earth asteroids rich with water and precious metals. The company claims that a single 500m platinum-rich space rock could contain up to $1 trillion in precious metals at current market prices. That's a lot of shiny.
The real target, though, is water. When processed with electrolysis, water is easily separated into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen which, conveniently, are the liquid fuels of choice for modern space flight. These things aren't exactly rare, but they are heavy. Planetary Resources envisions a network of "propellant depots" (interplanetary gas stations, of a sort) scattered throughout the solar system, allowing easy refueling for autonomous unmanned exploration bots. At least, that's what I'm imagining, and it sounds awesome.
Backers of the project include Google executives Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, and director James Cameron, who apparently couldn't wait a week after returning from the deepest point to which any human has traveled before embarking on some new incredibly implausible project.