Asteroids could become the intergalactic pit stops for exploring the universe. They have the potential to become cosmic gas stations, and even the building blocks for habitats on Mars.
Asteroids can be huge, and they’re almost everywhere in space. Asteroid mining could yield materials like platinum, iron, nickel, and cobalt; rare minerals; water; and even minerals that are impossible to form on Earth.
And while there are numerous kinds of valuable minerals on asteroids, the first and most important thing we need to do is learn how to extract water. Water is found in Carbonaceous asteroids, also known as C-type asteroids.
A water source in our planetary neighborhood could be a source of hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel and life support systems; a tool to shield us from radiation; and even a supply of drinking water for astronauts. The problem is that C-type asteroids are a bit tricky to find: the asteroids are incredibly dark. The good news is, all the sunlight they don’t reflect gets absorbed, warms the asteroids up, and they glow in the infrared.
That’s why NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing the Near-Earth Object Camera, or NEOCam, which, in addition to identifying potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects, will be able to comb the infrared for evidence of C-type asteroids.