Importance of Natural Resources

Manufacturing in space could save life on Earth | James Orsulak | TEDxMileHigh

Translator: Cihan Ekmekçi
Reviewer: Leonardo Silva All of the resources
that we have ever used as a civilization have come from the same place. Everything. All the energy, the fuels, minerals, metals, construction materials. The water, the air
that you’re breathing right now. Every resource that we’ve ever used
has come from the same place: Earth. Now, this actually presents
a severe problem, because when we study biological history, we very quickly see that any time
there’s a dominant species in a finite ecosystem, consuming a limited amount of resources, that species will collapse. Now, that collapse usually begins at 50%. When a species has converted
50% of its environment, the ecosystem becomes
unstable, and it changes. It’s no longer suitable
for that particular species. Now, here’s the scary part. There are 7 billion people on this planet. We are the dominant species. And we’ve converted 43%
of the available land mass on Earth. By the year 2050, there will be
9 billion people on our planet and we will be well past 50%. That means most of the people sitting
in this auditorium will see this begin. We don’t know exactly
what it’s going to look like, we don’t know exactly
what the impact is going to be, but the worst case scenario
is the end of the human race. Because Earth is no longer
suitable for human life. Now, the reason that this problem exists
is because it’s in our nature. Human beings consume resources. They alter their environment
so they can reproduce. It’s the very definition
of biological life. The problem is we’re running out of room,
we’re running out of resources and now we’re running out of time. So we need a plan. What if – what if there was a way
that we could make our ecosystem bigger? If we expand our view
and we look out into space, we see that all the resources
we hold of value here at home – energy, fuels, metals, water – are available in nearly
infinite quantities in our solar system. What if there’s a way
we could use those resources to prevent the collapse
of our civilization? Now, I know, that sounds impossible. It sounds like science fiction. But I have a different
viewpoint than you do. I work with some of the smartest
people in the world: engineers who have consistently
landed robots on other planets; a lot of scientists,
rocket scientists, data scientists, planetary scientists,
artificial intelligence experts. I’m the head of strategic partnerships for the largest asteroid-mining
company in the world. And I believe we can use the resources
of space to save our planet. We have proven again and again that we know how
to destroy an environment. Now it’s time for us to prove
that we can save it. From my vantage point, I see that there’s more
computing power in your car’s key fob than we use to send
the astronauts to the Moon. That means we can do incredible things
in space with cheap, affordable robots. For the very first time in history
we’ve amassed the technological toolkit that we need to dispatch
autonomous robotic explorers out into the solar system to find and access these resources
and put them to work. Imagine a future where the resources
we need do not only come from this planet, a future where we have access
to the vast resources of space and we are using them
to improve life here on Earth. That’s the future
I’m going to show you. It all starts with water. See, today if you want water in space
you have to take that resource, you have to load it onto a rocket
and launch it into space. Now, that’s a shame because there’s
a lot of water in space. There’s water on asteroids, on comets, on the poles of our Moon,
and on other planets. Water is everywhere in space. And that’s a good thing because water is one of the most
critical resources we will need. You see, this plan
involves a lot of robots, but it also involves a lot of people. People will be living and working
in space to make this possible. And those people need water for sustenance,
for hygiene, for growing food. But water in space is also fuel. If we pass water
through an electrical field, we can produce liquid hydrogen
and liquid oxygen. That’s high-efficiency rocket propellant. So if the source water from space
and turn it into rocket propellant, we can set up fuel depots
in the solar system, gas stations! And when we do that, for the first time
we have access to this new resource base because we’re not trying to launch
all our fuel from Earth. And now that we have access,
we can turn our sights to the next step: construction. You see, asteroids are also made
of pure, high-quality metals: nickel, iron, cobalt, platinum. This is the first object
that was created from an asteroid. It was the 3D-printed from a meteorite. It’s very heavy, it’s very strong, you’d never want to launch
something like this into space from Earth. But if you source metals from space and feed them to orbital
construction robots – which by the way, that’s already
a thing, we already have that – then you can create structures
that are no longer limited by size. See, this is the
International Space Station. It is the most expensive object
humans have ever built. It cost a hundred billion dollars. Why was it so expensive? Well, it was created
using the resources of Earth, that were turned into products,
loaded onto rockets, launched into space
and then assembled by humans. But that’s backwards. It doesn’t make sense anymore. That’s like roughly the equivalent
of you living in Europe and saying, “I’m going to move to the United States
and build a house there, but I’m going to ship all the materials
to build that house across the ocean; all of the wood, the metal, the plumbing,
the electrical, the shower heads, I’m going to ship it across the ocean,” when all of the resources you need
are already there at your destination. It doesn’t make sense. We can reduce the cost
and logistical inefficiencies of building large livable structures
in space by a factor of a hundred by simply sourcing what we need
from our destination. So we can build things in space! What should we build? Well, energy is the single largest driver
of resource consumption in the world. We mine for coal. We drill for oil and natural gas. We mine for metals
to build our wind plants. We mine for silicon
to make our solar panels. We mine for nickel to make batteries
so we can store it. One thing remains the same. As the population grows,
so does the energy demand, so does the resource consumption
that goes with it. We’ve always assumed that our energy production
must happen here on Earth because there’s never been an alternative, because we haven’t built one. If we use the resources of space, we can create massive,
kilometer-scale solar farms in space. These huge facilities
will capture the energy of the sun, that shines in space 24 hours a day, and beam that energy back to Earth. The technology to do this exists today, but it’s simply too expensive
when we try to use the resources of Earth. But if we use the resources in space, we can create planetary-scale macrogrids. You’ve heard of the electricity grid,
maybe you’ve heard of the microgrid. This is the opposite. This is a planetary-scale,
power-generation system. It’s the energy that we need
and the energy is in space. It’s not the resources
buried under our feet. So we have water, fuel,
construction capabilities, now power, we have all of the utilities
we need to build cities in space. Orbital megastructures
spun up to produce artificial gravity so they’re livable for large populations. These are emerging today
as commercial space stations. They’re research labs
for sovereign astronauts from around the world; hotels for adventurous tourists, certainly. But the primary function of these
facilities will be manufacturing. We will build things in space. It starts with satellites and spacecraft. Why would we want
to build satellites in space? Today when we build a satellite, it’s constrained by the rocket
that takes it to space. It has to be built and designed
to fit on top of that rocket. And it has to be designed to survive
the violent rocket launch to the atmosphere. (Mimicking a rocket) (Laughter) But if we remove that constraint, we can build things that are
as big as our imagination and vastly more capable. And if we’ve come this far,
we can take the final step and we can start to solve
our resource crisis. We can move our industrial
manufacturing into space, all of it. You see, manufacturing
is resource consumption. We use the resources of Earth,
we turn them into manufactured products, so we can sell them and do useful things. That is what drives commerce on Earth. But what if we reverse that? What if we gather and harvest
all of our raw materials and resources from deep space and import them to an orbital manufacturing ring
around the planet, and then return only
the finished products to the surface? Let’s use your smartphone as an example. This was created
using raw materials from Earth. Yet, every single one
of the raw materials in this exists in infinite quantities in space. The most expensive component
of your phone is platinum, and platinum is readily available
in near-earth asteroids passing by us all the time. This is created here on Earth
using the resources of Earth, in a factory that produces emissions,
consumes resources. They use toxic chemicals
like benzene to produce this. And that factory produces hazardous waste
that’s the byproduct of manufacturing. That’s the bad stuff:
poisons, toxins, heavy metals, radiation. The problem is all of the hazardous waste
from manufacturing is stuck with us here in the finite ecosystem that we live in. It’s poisoning our air, our water, our fish, our wildlife, our food our kids! Do you know where this should not be made? (Laughter) (Breathing in) (Breathing out) (Laughter) In the only breathable atmosphere
that we know of anywhere, a resource that we take for granted
every minute of every day. So if we do this, we reverse the human supply chain, we push all of our mining
and manufacturing outside the atmosphere, what have we done? We’ve now zoned the Earth
for residential access only. Imagine if you walked outside one day
and there were no factories, no power plants, no refineries,
no oil rigs, no pipelines to protest, and instead we simply allowed the planet
to return to a more natural state, we intentionally stabilized
our environment. We’d have more space here on Earth,
more room for the population, because we’re not trying to live
on top of our consumable resource base. And to be clear, this is not
a vision about scarcity. And yes, we still have to conserve all of the precious resources
we have here at home. But this is a vision about abundance. It’s about having access
to all of the resources we need to grow as a civilization. They’re simply coming
from a different place. Now, I know, I know
this sounds impossible, but it’s happening fast,
faster than you could ever imagine, and it’s already started. My kids are two. By the time they’re in high school,
they will see operational asteroid mines. They’ll grow up in a world knowing that the resources we need
do not simply come from only this planet. As a parent this gives me a lot of hope, because I want to create
a world for those kids that gets better and better,
not worse and worse. And when someone asks them, “Why we should be exploring space when we have so many
problems here at home?”, they will know the answer to that. The resources of space are the solutions
to our greatest problems. It is only by exploring space
that we safeguard this world, the one that matters the most. This is what I ask of you: believe that this is possible, because for the very first time
in human history, it is possible. When we access the infinite
resources of space, we do so so we can protect and preserve
the single most important asset that we know of anywhere in the universe, the only place that we know of
that can support human life: our home, Earth. Thank you. (Applause)

Reader Comments

  1. I've been saving and investing since 1976 to be ready when some space industrialization companies go public. I expected that to be 20 years ago. I hope I don't have to wait another 20 years.

  2. Wonderful talk! Space IS the answer to all our problems here on Earth, and the speaker made it so clear. Now we just have to address the purple elephant in the room: what technology will make this possible? Where there is a strong enough will, there's a way. I'm rooting for Planetary Resources!

  3. An observation…. Seems like in order to be a TEDx speaker, it helps to push the "climate change" sky-is-falling hypothesis at some point, especially the talks given in Europe. As if it's already science fact.

  4. Maybe we can use carbanaceous asteroids to make some polymers for some slightly more spacious pants…

  5. Awesome. Just hope that the working conditions in these spacecrafts factories will be good and don't converge into some Bangladesh like place…

  6. I'm a believer but many are sceptics & it seems like this presentation was aimed at ppl who are not in the know regarding space, if i were him i would have included a lot of pictures of current cutting edge developments.

  7. If you like this topic you should checkout Isaac Arthur's Youtube channel. He has hundreds of video on space stuff, he is a physicist, and goes into high detail on the nuts and bolts of everything to do with space, including asteroid mining, which I believe is the title of one of his videos.

  8. Old wisdom says "nothing falls from heavens, you have to work for it". Nice to hear it is possible to challenge also this "concept" 🙂

  9. How is living in space and living on the earth different once you remove the atmosphere and gravity? Resources and transportation?and i understand the marketing strategy of a clean living earth and such a environment does make life easier and less of a challenge but why not use up the earth and then move into space and when both are used up and this could take thousands of years and by that time we could have a method of reaching another star and repeating the process. Their is something like 100 billion stars in this galaxy.

  10. ok, he talks, but who is going to do it? musk is doing just ordinary rockets and it took 10 years and billions of dollars. hotels in orbit will take much more money and much more time… and apparently nobody works on ti

  11. This talk as many others does not convince me at all. My opinion is that we don't have enough time for space exploration guys. This will take too long for our necessities. In a few decades, the world will dramatically change; if space exploration and mining can manage in that short period of time would be awesome, but I doubt it.
    The space dream is fascinating with all this TV show propaganda that clouds our minds. Colonizing Mars, exploring Pluto and Europa, studying and collecting new data about the mysteries of the universe like dark matter and space-time waves is cool, isn't it? But i wonder for how long they will hide the truth that these dreams will never become true.
    We have thousands of years to study these things, don't need to rush.
    The scientific community must be at the service of activism against climate change as well as the entire society, if we want to stay below 2 Celsius degrees warming. We need to change now.

  12. "In our nature??" Go to the natives in Africa & South America who live in perfect equilibrium, look them in the eye and say that

  13. He talks about how toxic the production of the phone is, yet gives no answers as how to solve this. Instead his solution is to "poison the air, water, fish, wildlife, food, and kids" of the space station.

    This kind of problem solving has only shifted the problems to less visible areas, historical mentalities "I don't see it, not my problem".

  14. Tie tubes for both male and female. Or force all of us to limit how much children we have. China explored that. Learn from them

  15. I understand trying to make your point but using lies and subterfuge to do so does nothing for your position. Instead it leaves your audience with no trust in your opinion. Leave the lies to other hucksters.

    Your figures about limited resources are just ridiculous in many ways. For example, just because there are humans on all continents does not mean that they are fully occupied. Not at all. But people who talk about overpopulation almost never talk about the fact that most occupied continents are mostly empty. You commonly hear the term "Fly-Over Country" referenced when you fly coast to coast you see lights only over large cities and the fast majority of the land masses are mostly dark at night.

    In addition, you fail to mention that most of the planet is covered by water. That portion of our planet is almost completely unknown to our science. We could easily build under sea habitats and mine areas that have not even been touched. Much more easily than traveling to space.

    Not only that but most of the numbers that you are using are proffered by the Global Warming fraudsters who have long ago given their flowers up to their true God, the Government Subsidy. They would not know a fact if it was in a rail road train headed for their car on a railroad crossing.

  16. We need to be forcing our governments to spend a significant part of our budget on going into space. That space will give us so many options. We need to override the skeptics without the vision as to me even before watching this guy it is obvious that we are running out of space and resources on this planet. We live in an infinite universe. Every human knows deep down that space is infinite in every direction with infinite resources.

    There are 12 million square miles of arable land on Earth(1 acre per person) and that is not going to increase significantly. Yea we can probably double that if we where careful but I hate the idea of the whole world becoming farm land.

    To me it would be amazing if we could produce everything in space that we need. We could then turn Earth into a garden of Eden.

  17. It is impossible that one country is to save the world, the only way is all countries argee to achieve this plan, even if it has to be working with enemies unless you want time to win

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