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Colorado School Of Mines Goes Interplanetary With New Space Resources Program

David Santaolalla
A new graduate program at the Colorado School of Mines will focus on extracting resources in space.

Starting this fall, our region will host something new: a graduate program in space resources.

“This is the very first program in the world that is focused on space resources,” says Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines.

He says other schools may have a few classes here and there but not a full-fledged graduate program.

Coursework will touch on everything from the legal issues of mining an asteroid or the moon to finding and recycling basic materials for fuel and survival.

He says there’s a common misunderstanding that the goal is to mine space for precious metals and other materials to bring back to Earth. While a single asteroid could contain billions of dollars in platinum, Abbud-Madrid says at this point, the real value lies in more humble, practical materials.

“Starting, probably, with plain and simple water -- water that can be converted to hydrogen and oxygen, which is the most energetic rocket propellant known,” he says. “Right now, everything we send into space -- propellants, human consumables, every little bolt and nut -- comes from Earth. That is a very energy-intensive and a very expensive way to conduct the exploration of space.”

Finding ways to use what’s already in space could give space exploration missions a big boost. For example, he says oxygen extracted from moon rocks could help sustain space travelers -- and cut their dependence on shipments from Earth. Likewise, coming up with new ways to recycle space debris could help give a mission more independence.

“That's where the true value of resources lies at this point,” says Abbud-Madrid.

Some of the graduate courses will take place online. Students will be able to get either a professional certificate, a master's degree or a Ph.D. Classes start this fall.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.