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When the pioneers of yore set out to explore North America, they didn’t load up their horses and covered wagons with wood, bricks, and endless food or water. Rather, they brought with them saws, arrows, and pickaxes to chop down trees for shelter, hunt for food, and mine the land for other life-saving resources. In a similar vein, Chris Lewicki is leading his own team of covered wagons—across space, to mine for resources left over from the solar system’s birth. As the CEO and chief asteroid miner of Planetary Resources, Inc. in Redmond, Washington, the 42-year-old aerospace engineer is looking to identify how the materials in near-Earth asteroids—namely metals and water—can be used to one day facilitate long-haul space missions and travel, and even save the Earth’s resources from being overused.

Lewicki and his team operate within an emerging movement called NewSpace, whereby aerospace companies work to develop space tourism services or underlying technologies at low cost. Asteroid resource mining is an important aspect of this effort. “For all of our history in exploring space, we’ve brought everything we will ever need on the journey,” Lewicki says, but harnessing the abundant resources on near-Earth asteroids would “enable the creation of infrastructure and industries [in space] not dependent on continual shipments from Earth.”

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