Take a look at the list of the richest people to ever walk the Earth. The wealthiest man ever, an African king from the 14th century, had hundreds of billions of dollars to his name, but still nowhere even close to hitting 13 figures. That would have made him a trillionaire, something the world has yet to see. Reaching trillionaire status is bound to happen for someone in the future. But we have yet to see a single organization even hit that mark, although Apple is quickly approaching it.
Advances in technology, allowing us to go places and do things never before possible, are probably what’s going to allow the first trillionaire to forge his or her fortune. And there’s a good chance that they will do it not from the comfort of our own planet, but in outer space.
Space exploration is still in its embryonic stage, at least in the private sector. Though NASA reached the moon in the late 1960s, we’ve yet to go back, and have since even mothballed our Space Shuttle program while slashing budgets as well. A lot of people don’t see a lot of benefit from going to space — not enough to offset the incredible costs of getting there, anyway. But a new swath of private businesses are vying to get there, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and others.
Why? Because there is literally an unfathomable amount of opportunity, and money to be made outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
That money — hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth — is encased in rock and ice in asteroids, and on our neighboring planets, like Mars. Just one asteroid, that buzzed Earth a couple years ago, had an estimated worth of $195 billion and it was only 150 feet wide. According to Space.com, the asteroid may have had as much as $65 billion in recoverable water, and up to $130 billion in metals to be mined, if only it could be lassoed so miners could dig into it.
The key here is that the materials we have finite amounts of on Earth, be it water, precious metals, or anything else, could presumably be found in huge amounts in outer space. The individuals or companies that are able to devise a way to access those huge amounts of resources will therefore control the markets, and be able to turn profits unlike anything ever seen.
For entrepreneurs, that means no more sifting through human waste to find gold, bartering over rare minerals from conflict zones to power the newest gadget, or even hoping their startup turns into the next Snapchat. To become the richest person the solar system has ever seen, it’s all a matter of corralling an asteroid, or getting to Mars and setting up a mining operation.
Of course, making that happen is far more complicated than it sounds, and that’s why it hasn’t happened yet. But that doesn’t mean work isn’t underway. There are even websites, like Asterank, which list nearby asteroids with their potential value and profitability. The moon is also a potential literal gold mine, and planets like Mars and Venus could be littered with gases, minerals, and precious metals needed to propel humanity into its next chapter.
That’s a particularly important caveat, seeing as how the world is facing a fairly bleak outlook with the onset of global climate change, sea level rise, prolonged drought, and and ever-increasing worldwide population.
The technology needed to deal with those issues and others facing the planet will likely come from private innovators, especially as governments cut back on spending in the face of turbulent economic cycles. Peter Diamandis, an entrepreneur and author who has founded several space-related companies, says that the need to develop these technologies, in addition to the incredible profits to be had, will drive humanity into the stars.
“This is the moment in time when we, as a species, are moving off the planet irreversibly,” Diamandis said in a short video produced by Business Insider. “We now have the ability for individuals, or for companies, to start to build spaceships to take us out there.”
“If you think about this crazy idea of going to asteroids, these asteroids are trillion-dollar assets. They are everything we hold of value on Earth — metals, minerals, real estate,” he added. “I think the first trillionaire is going to be made in space.”
With trillions of dollars literally floating around out there, it’s hard to think he’s wrong.
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