I Will Turn Invisible; You Bet Your Asteroid

Consider this an official press release announcing my plans to turn myself invisible.

The technology to do this has been under development for decades in the Defense Department's stealth fighter program. It is a simple optical illusion that involves bending all the light around me.

Once invisible, I may be able to stride undetected onto a multimillion-dollar spaceship and take a free ride to a robotic asteroid mining operation. Once there, I will scoop up "near-infinite quantities" of rare metals, including more platinum that's ever been mined in the history of Earth, and then I'll really be rich.

Turning myself invisible will be the easy part. The hard part will be waiting for Planetary Resources Inc. to open its first mine on an asteroid.

On Tuesday, the company put out a press release touting such plans. The press release didn't say how or when the company plans to mine asteroids, yet it drew far less laughter than this one about me planning to turn myself invisible.

Many media outlets reported it uncritically, probably because it involves some otherwise believable characters from Google, "Titanic" filmmaker James Cameron, billionaire's son Ross Perot Jr., the founder of the X Prize for space technology Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures Ltd., the company that shoots rich people into space.

Nobody asked, Hey, Cameron, didn't you learn about the horrific dangers of space-mining in 1979 when you made the film, "Alien"?

Nobody said, Hey, Perot, didn't your daddy warn you that the "giant sucking sound" might be that leak in your space helmet?

Nobody even calculated whether the odds of mining an asteroid were any better than simply waiting for one to hit the Earth -- which some predict could happen as early as Dec. 21.

Planetary Resources counts 1,500 near-Earth asteroids it says are as "easy to reach as the Moon." But as far as I know, Jackie Gleason was the only other Earthling who ever thought going to the Moon was easy, as he so often waved his fist on "The Honeymooners" and declared, "You're going to the Moon, Alice."

"Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space," Planetary Resource co-founder Diamandis boasted in his press release.

"Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system," said Anderson, the other Planetary Resource co-founder, in the press release. "In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant."

We can barely extract drinking water from our salty seas on Earth, but these guys are going to suck it out of an asteroid tumbling through space and turn it into breathable air and rocket fuel?

In a telephone interview, Anderson told me all of these plans are "extremely likely."

"The question is how long it will take in the future," he said.

Yes, of course, I agreed, that's my question.

"I'm not going to give a timeline," Anderson said. "There's not much benefit for us in doing so."

Because it could take hundreds of years?

"I'll be the first one to tell you it's amazingly difficult to mine asteroids," he continued. "But it will happen a lot sooner because we're trying to do it."

Anderson is a guy who once wore a T-shirt that read, "Actually, I am a rocket scientist." His company, Space Adventures, remains the only enterprise that has brokered deals to launch private citizens into space, beginning with Los Angeles investor Dennis Tito in 2001 on a Russian rocket.

If you want to go to the International Space Station, Anderson can get you there for about $52 million, up from the $20 million Tito paid in 2001. (Yes, there's inflation, even in the vacuum of space.)

Meantime, actor Ashton Kutcher last month became the 500th person to sign up for a $200,000 seat on billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which plans to launch space flights from "Spaceport America" in the New Mexican desert as early as next year. (It's always next year.)

Some call this a tremendous waste of money at a time when people are starving or at least underemployed. Others call it human progress. But anyone who is a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement should support the idea of shooting the rich and famous into space … and possibly watching them burn upon re-entry in an early stage commercial space liner with a loose tile or two.

Going to space will remain expensive and dangerous for decades to come.

So far, Japan's space agency is the only organization that has been to an asteroid and back. The mission cost $200 million. It ran into one technical glitch after the next. It took seven years to complete. And what did it bring back when it finally returned in June 2010? About 1,500 particles of dust, each no larger than the diameter of a human hair.

Maybe these Planetary Resource people ought to build street sweepers instead.

As for me, it looks like I am going to have to find a better way to get rich, once I turn myself invisible.

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. The column is published each Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. ET. Contact Al at al.lewis@dowjones.com or tellittoal.com)