The resources of the solar system only seem infinite. They're not, say scientists who have proposed declaring more than 85% of the solar system "space wilderness," safe from human development. The primary goal, the Guardian reports, is to keep us from using up all the resources within our reach. That runs counter to mining companies' argument that taking minerals from other planets would preserve Earth's environment, per the BBC. "Once you've exploited the solar system, there’s nowhere left to go," said Martin Elvis, a senior astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts. Elvis and British philosopher Tony Milligan say that opening one-eighth of the solar system to mining is less restrictive than it sounds; one-eighth of the asteroid belt's iron could supply Earth for centuries, their report estimates.
Space mining companies have their sights set on iron and precious metals in asteroids, as well as minerals and water on the moon, per the Guardian. The European Space Agency is planning a village on the moon. Deciding which areas to protect is difficult, Elvis and Milligan write in Acta Astronautica, which is among the practical and ethical issues that they point out would have to be settled. Mining missions could begin within 10 years, Elvis says. "Once it starts and somebody makes an enormous profit, there will be the equivalent of a gold rush," he says. "We need to take it seriously." (An alien star has been discovered in our galaxy.)