Asteroid mining is just a few years away, according to a US company, but there won't be any jobs for pickaxe-wielding spacemen just yet: The first probes will only be the size of laptops. Deep Space Industries plans to send the probes on prospecting trips to some of the 1,700 near-Earth asteroids in 2015, the CBC reports. Larger spacecraft will follow to extract valuable metals and gases from the asteroids, says the company, which aims to sell the resources to Mars missions and to the builders of orbiting space platforms.
Asteroids "can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century—a key resource located near where it was needed," the company's CEO says. "In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century." Director James Cameron has announced a similar venture, but experts aren't sure if asteroid mining is ready to get off the ground, the Guardian notes. "Is the prospect of using asteroid resources crazy? No, it's not. Is it difficult? Yes, it is," says the editor of NasaWatch.com. "Can you make a business case for it? People are trying, and making progress."