I once had a call from a reporter asking me to comment on a story about universities across the US defunding their Astronomy Departments. In that moment the story was particularly ironic because a NASA probe had made contact with a planet in our solar system. What a time to cut Astronomy the reporter said... right when there would be great pictures coming back to study.
I told him NASA, and the aerospace industry, were not so much about studying the origins of life and other such rhetoric any more. They still do public relations about the wonders of the universe but the real essence of space exploration is being commercialized and privatized. The space program is now about developing the technology to mine the sky on behalf of corporate profits. (Some of these technology applications can also be militarized - thus the term 'dual use'.)
This European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission to land on a comet in deep space is an example of space technology development that will be used to prepare for eventual planetary mining operations.
Note the ESA story
about Rosetta which says:
... on-the-spot analysis of the composition of the comet’s surface
materials, and a drill that will take samples from a depth of 23 cm and feed
them to an onboard laboratory for analysis.
Preconditions for successful mining operations in space are developing the technology to know what minerals and resources are available and where they are located. How are they found and how are they mined? How and to where do they get transported? Will nuclear reactors be used for rocket engines to give heavy lift capability? Will nuclear reactors provide power for mining colonies in space? Who will pay for these missions? Who will profit? Who will own the planetary bodies?
Our current system of capitalist globalization was initiated by the European powers sending off their tiny sailing ships on dangerous missions to claim lands in the 'New World'. These European powers were soon at war with one another as they wrestled for profit and control of their new colonies. The question is now: do we take this global dog-eat-dog extraction system with us as we Earthlings inevitably venture into the heavens?
One good thing can be said about the Rosetta mission. The ESA used solar to power the 10-year mission into deep space. NASA has long claimed that doing this kind of mission with solar was not possible and thus their reason for insisting on using nuclear powered space probes and rovers on their flights. The nuclear industry views space as a vast new market and has taken control of the NASA decision making process that considers which kinds of power sources are used on all their space missions.