Atomic number 79 and symbol Au, gold is one of the most incredible elements in the universe. It was brought to Earth by asteroids and meteorites, as it must be forged from the heart of a supernova. It’s the only metal that is, well, golden colored, and is soft enough when pure to leave a bite mark.We can flatten it to a sheet thinner than paper, but a chunk the size of a brick couldn’t be lifted over your head, weighing well over 300 pounds!

Gold is used to coat the visors of astronaut helmets because it is such an excellent reflective substance of radiation. It is found in the human bloodstream, and makes an excellent anti-inflammatory, sometimes injected with other substances into the body to combat the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis.

Gold is used in test strips to detect malaria, early detection of HIV, and gold nanoparticles can be attached to cancer cells in order to detect cancer early when it can be treated successfully. These same nanoparticles can target cancer cells and destroy them without damaging healthy cells, the holy grail of all cancer treatment methods.

The demand for gold is increasing while the supply is limited, and difficult to acquire. When I heard from Neil deGrasseTyson  that 300 metric tons are contained in the average 500 meter metallic asteroid, I realized that it won’t be science fiction that defines how humans will mine asteroids for precious metals. When the applications of gold are fully realized, perhaps we can stop assaulting our planet and gather a harvest from the lonely zone between Mars and Jupiter, the asteroid belt.

American government officials used to question the need for a space program once they’d planted a flag on the moon. Once they realize there is money to be made, and perhaps one of their ailments cured, we may again indeed see a robust space program, funding, support, and a return to aerospace education and industry. At least we can hope.

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