Mining the asteroids may be the next great frontier for investors, says Adriana Marais, the only South African selected for the Mars One expedition. She spoke to ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Dr Adriana Marais is not your typical extraterrestrial. For that matter, she’s not even your typical Earthling. With a doctorate in theoretical physics, a passion for jazz and a lifelong love of reading, she sparkles with enthusiasm. Most of that energy is devoted to her pet topic: why a human colony on a distant planet is not just a good idea, but an essential one.
Adriana is the only South African selected for the Mars One project to establish a permanent human colony on Mars in the next decade. The catch: they can never come back.
Yet, the organisers claim 200 000 people applied for a spot on the mission. Just over a thousand made it to a second round pool, and 100 finalists were announced in February 2016. In September last year, six teams comprising two men and two women were selected – and one was from South Africa.
Many have questioned whether the project is even possible.
“That’s the point of dreams: the dreamers have a belief in themselves that propels dreams into reality,” she said in an interview this week. “As Nelson Mandela said, something is always impossible until it is done.
“The American announcement that it would put people on the moon was an impossible dream, but it was achieved in eight years. Team size and budget and determination made it happen. We’re in a similar position. I think it will happen unless we self-destruct as a species before then, we will be a species living off Earth in a few decades.”
The question Adriana is asked most often is not an engineering one about space travel, but a psychological one: how will she cope with the desolation of potentially being one of only 24 human beings on an entire planet, for the rest of her life?
She jokes at first: “I’ll finally have some peace and quiet, and have time to read, which I’ve loved to do since I was a child. Seriously, any price you’d need to pay to be one of first members of a new society on a new planet would be worth it.
“I’m very lucky to have been born in this very narrow window of human existence, of life on earth. These few decades are the most unique in the history of the planet.”
Meanwhile, she is likely to be kept busy for some of the ten years that have been scheduled for training the astronauts.
Far from leaving everything behind, Adriana’s selection for the project kickstarted a new career: the enterprise software company SAP, which runs 15 Co-innovation Labs across the world, approached her to run the South African facility. She was appointed head of innovation at SAP Africa, where her duties include driving strategic co-innovation projects and taking responsibility for the SAP Start-up Focus programme, which provides small and medium enterprises with digital solutions to help accelerate growth.
At this week’s Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City, she teamed up with a mining software specialist to present her perspective on a topic as visionary as a colony on Mars: mining the asteroids.
“I believe mining resources from asteroids is a more ethical way of mining than disrupting unique ecosystems on Earth, which is teeming with life. And there are far more metals in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter than have ever been detected on planet Earth, on these bodies floating in space not having life on them, waiting to be harvested.”
She gives the example of the asteroid Anteros, a 2km-diameter lump of rock that is so packed with rare minerals, it has been valued at US$5.57-trillion. A methodology has already been developed for asteroid mining, going by the acronym SHEPERD (Secure Handling by Encapsulation of a Planetesimal Heading to Earth-moon Retrograde-orbit Delivery). Adriana enthuses about the engineering innovations that will make the mission profitable.
“While bringing the samples back to Earth, you can already start mining, using electroforming, which uses gases to differentiate metals from volatiles, which burn off so that you can collect the metals. As you’re electro-forming, you’re doing spectral analysis of the particles flying off. If at any point you find that the metals accumulating are not of sufficient value, you can abort the mission. It provides real time profit analysis.”
Empie Strydom, vice president of marketing at mining software company MineRP, joined Adriana in the presentation to explain the way minerals embedded in asteroids can be detected and valued. His company already provides that services to conventional mining houses on Earth, saving millions through eliminating human error in detecting mineral deposits.
He was equally enthusiastic about the possibilities.
“The time for putting together a space mission is the same as the time it takes to sink a mine shaft, and the cost is the same. The difference is 30 years life of a mine here, in which time you retrieve the minerals and make a profit over time. But when bring back a big rock in one go, you have potentially, for example, a trillion dollars of platinum right there.”
Welcome to world of 2099
The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.
Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.
This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.
Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.
As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.
“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”
The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.
“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”
Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
Street art goes electric
Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.
The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.
The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.
D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.
D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.
“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”
As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.
Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”
Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”