Asteroids are minor planets that usually sit in the inner solar system, orbiting the sun. There are millions of them flying around space and their collisions – known as impact events – have played a significant role in shaping many planets. These space rocks contain a number of vital raw materials including iron, platinum, nickel and aluminium, as well as traces of water.
Carolin Crawford, a UK astrophysicist based at the University of Cambridge has come up with a futuristic plan for the space agency.
She revealed during a Radio 4 “In Our Time” broadcast on asteroids how they could be used as “petrol stations” while building an infrastructure among the stars.
She said in 2005: “It is a very interesting possibility when you look at our mineral resources on Earth, they haven’t run out yet, but give them a couple of centuries and they will be in short supply.
“You could set up a mining camp on one of these asteroids and get billions of tonnes of high-grade metal and there is also water to sustain the camp.
“Or we could tow an asteroid to orbit around Earth as a little petrol station for future missions.”
Ms Crawford even took the idea one step further, detailing how the theory could help the exploration of space.
She added: “So it is a supply of mineral resources and we are going to need these if we want to colonise the solar system.
“If we are building large space structures and need lots of rocket fuel, it does not make sense to launch it up to space.
Ms Crawford, now 56, continued: “Why not just use what is already up there? It’s easily extracted from small objects that don’t have a lot of gravity.
“These asteroids are not just iron and nickel but they also have platinum – which we use as a catalyst converter.
“All these elements are in the core of the Earth where we cannot get to.
“It is easier to develop a system to go to the asteroid, than penetrating to the great depths of the Earth’s core.”