Today marks 40 years since we left our moon. There were many reasons why we left--most of them were issues here on Earth that were more pressing, less costly, or had stolen the zeitgeist of popular support.
In the intervening decades, space enthusiasts, astrophiles, and rocket jockies who've been heartbroken at the lack of progress to establish a permanent human presence off-world have been looking for a more commercial rationale to return to the great space race of yore. They found it in the asteroid belt.
The untapped resources that float between Jupiter and Mars (and futher out, in the Kuiper Belt) contain a wealth of metals, minerals, gasses, and even liquids with market value--that would sustain a burgeoning economy for centuries to come. And those resources would not only supply us here at home, but could propel futher exploration.
We chose to go to our moon to help turn the tide of the Cold War, but in the process opened a door to magnanimous scientific inspiration. The chore of getting living beings to walk on its surface was an engineering and technical undertaking unlike any other previous or since. But on December 14, 1972, we came home and haven't been back.
Mining.com just posted an infographic explaining how asteroid mining will soon become a neccessity, given the soon-to-peak mineral and metallurgical resources market. It's also a story and start-ups like Planetary Resources are trying desperately to convey. They're hoping to light a fire public opinion and venture capitalists alike. The windfall from these efforts could (in all likelihood, would) spur an economic and scientific revolution that would carry our species to the ends of the solar system--and hopefully--beyond.
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Oh, and that last man? He was Eugene Andrew Cernan, commander of Apollo 17. And these were the words he uttered just before launching off the surface (starts at 1:12):