Strip-mining equipment extracts iron and other raw materials from an asteroid. In the foreground, a mining cart transports the materials to a processing plant.

If you enjoy science fiction, then you know that the thought of colonizing the moon makes for some incredibly imaginative stories. But there is a good possibility that lunar cities will become a reality during the 21st century! Colonizing Mars is another option as well.

Right now, one of the biggest problems with the idea of a moon colony is the question of building supplies. There is no Home Depot on the moon, so the building supplies have to come from somewhere. The only place to get the supplies right now is the Earth, with the space shuttle acting as a truck. Using the space shuttle in this way is something like using FedEx to get all of the materials for building a house to a construction site -- It's incredibly expensive and not very efficient!

Asteroids may be a much better place to get the supplies. Early evidence suggests that there are trillions of dollars' worth of minerals and metals buried in asteroids that come close to the Earth. Asteroids are so close that many scientists think an asteroid mining mission is easily feasible. Several international organizations are developing plans for going up to get these natural space resources.

In this edition of How Stuff Will Work, we'll examine what valuable resources miners could find on asteroids and discuss how a space mining operation could get those resources out!