My brother sent me this article about business in space (which contains the catchy phrasing I stole to title this post) that touches on just how much wealth is waiting to be discovered.
Meanwhile, new technologies are opening up new possibilities. Consider the space elevator, which is enabled by the advent of lightweight carbon nanotubes; a 62,000-mile elevator to the heavens would reduce orbital freight costs by 98 percent and open up space just as the railroads opened up the Wild West.
The long-term possibilities are even more celestial. Ever heard of 3554 Amun? It's a space rock about 2 kilometers in diameter that looks as if it might have fallen straight out of The Little Prince. There are three key things to know about 3554 Amun: First, its orbit crosses that of Earth; second, it's the smallest M-class (metal-bearing) asteroid yet discovered; and finally, it contains (at today's prices) roughly $8 trillion worth of iron and nickel, $6 trillion of cobalt, and $6 trillion of platinumlike metals. In other words, whoever owns Amun could become 450 times as wealthy as Bill Gates. And if you time your journey right -- 2020 looks promising -- it's easier to reach than the Moon.
That kind of supply would certainly drive down the costs for all sorts of raw materials, which would further spur the world economy and give a huge boost to the present-day third-world countries that will be struggling to industrialize all though this century. Space exploration will fundamentally change the political landscape of just about every issue, from environmentalism to "globalization" (we'll need a new term once we've got more than one globe).
Baldrson makes and interesting point: all that metal is worth far more in orbit than it would be on the ground, considering the cost of lifting material into space. A pound of anything in orbit is worth thousands of dollars.