Mining The Asteroid Belt

Any sci-fi buff has read stories about hardy souls who fly between the asteroids and mine the hurtling chunks of rock for minerals.  Usually the heroic asteroid miner-pilot is a gruff, swashbuckling character with a taste for adventure and a heart of gold.

Now the concept of mining the asteroid belt seems to have moved a step closer to reality — except that the mining will be done by robots, not adventurers.

A consortium of wealthy entrepreneurs has announced a plan to use telescopes to identify likely candidates for mining, with a specific focus on gold and platinum.  The plans would then move to establishing observation platforms and a fuel depot in orbit, and finally to the mining of asteroids and shipment of minerals back to Earth.

Obviously, we are still far away from commercial exploration of space.  Nevertheless, those of us who dream of more robust space exploration must pin our hopes on profit-seeking entities, because our cash-strapped governments are unlikely to do much.  If profits can be made, entrepreneurs who are willing to accept risks will figure out a way to realize those profits.

The fact that companies are finally starting to look carefully at space tourism, asteroid mining, and other obvious commercial activities in space is a good sign.  Serious efforts will mean a focus on improving the technology, mission planning, delivery systems, and other processes that will make commercial use of space resources increasingly viable.

That means our grandchildren might not be swashbuckling asteroid mining pilots — but they could get a chance to spend some time among the stars.

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Sometimes Nice Guys Finish First

Aunt Bebe, as she is known in our family, is my sister-in-law.  She has been a devout Ohio State Buckeye fan long before Bob was even a glimmer in his father’s eye.  She adores the Buckeyes.  I’m not sure why.  She didn’t got to school there.

When Jim Tressel became the coach at OSU, Bebe was ecstatic.  Bebe thought he was great – in part, no doubt, because in his inaugural introduction to the fans, players and students he promised a victory over the dreaded team up north (Michigan- to the uninitiated).  She wrote Tressel encouraging him and raving about the prospects for the team.  She continued to write him. She wrote him when OSU lost (not often) and she wrote him when they won (a lot).  She was his most ardent supporter.

A few years ago, she wrote Tressel before theMichigangame and warned him that they might try a statue of liberty play.  He turned the tables and put the play into his game plan and used it.  In a post game interview with Sports Illustrated,  Tressel mentioned the fact that Bebe, an elderly lady inAkron, had sent him the play and he used it.  The team had gained significant yardage and the story was great p.r.  Needless to say, Bebe was flabbergasted and thrilled.  The local newspaper picked it up and Bebe was a minor celebrity.

When Tressel came under fire for covering up his players misdeeds, Bebe stuck with him and continued to send him supportive letters. One can debate whether Tressel was right or wrong in his actions, but one cannot debate the value of having a friend who understands mistakes, forgives them and continues to be supportive of the errant person.  That’s Bebe.  She understands that to err is human.  She may not accept that she is divine  in her forgiveness, but she is.

Yesterday Bebe was invited, by some folks who also hold her in high regard, to a fund raiser at which Jim Tressel spoke.  Before the speech, the gentleman who was in charge, and who had brought Bebe to the affair, while speaking to Tressel, noticed Bebe standing across the room and said to Tressel: “Do you know this lady?”  Tressel immediately said “Of course, It’s Bebe” (or words to that effect) and he then went over to her and gave her a hug.

Talk about being thrilled.  But the story does not end there.  At the beginning of his speech,  Tressel introduced Bebe to the audience, had her stand up and made some nice comments about her and their years of correspondence.  But wait, that’s not all.  As it was a fund raiser event there was a door prize.  Tressel drew a number for the winner, but the person wasn’t there.  He drew again and – yep, it was Bebe’s number.  And for icing on the cake, Tressel spent a few more moments with her after the affair was over.  Oh, did I mention that Bebe is 85 years old?  .  Bebe probably won’t sleep for a week.

Nice people don’t always finish last.  Sometimes they win.  Maybe not often enough, but sometimes.  No one is nicer than Bebe.  She deserved all that happened to her yesterday.  But it is also clear that Tressel is a nice man.  Maybe his trouble arose because he was just looking out for his players.  I don’t know.  I do know that in my book, Jim Tressel will always be a great coach and a good man just for how he has treated Bebe.

On The Value Of Free Public Toilets

What separates a “first world” country from a second or third world country?  Free and sanitary public toilets would be high on the list of distinguishing features.

In Mumbai, India, a campaign is underway to try to shame public authorities into establishing free public toilets for women.  Currently, women have to pay for the privilege of using a public toilet, while men can do so for free.  Moreover, there is a huge shortage of toilets, both public and private, in India.  Indeed, a recent survey showed that half — half! — of Indian homes do not have toilets.  As a result, it is commonplace for people to relieve themselves in public.  In a nation as crowded as India, that reality has obvious public health consequences, to say nothing of its negative effect on the sights and smells of everyday existence.

Americans take the existence of (relatively) clean and accessible public facilities for granted.  It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if they weren’t available — but in many parts of India that is the way of the world.  As India continues to surge forward to solidify its position as a global economic and military powerhouse, it also should focus on basic decencies like public toilets for its people.  You’re far more likely to be happy, productive, and full of self-respect if the call of nature doesn’t require you to squat, embarrassed, by the side of the road.