"I think a business case has to be made for it," he said. "I think it has been made, but we just haven't worked out how that might be done."
Mining materials from space isn't a new idea. The concept has been around for decades. Scientists say that many of the elements used in manufacturing like iron, gold, cobalt and palladium originated from asteroids that rained down on Earth billions of years ago.
In the past few months, the subject of mining in space has come up again; this time with producer/director James Cameron. Cameron who helmed blockbusters including "Titanic" and "Avatar," is starting a business, Planetary Resources, that intends to mine a wide variety of elements including zinc, gold and platinum from asteroids in space.
Hickam thought Cameron's plan sounded impractical, and he wasn't exactly impressed with his board of advisors. He said he saw a lot of scientists and movie producers.
"But not one mining engineer."
Hickam wondered if Cameron's group planned to velcro their astronauts to the side of asteroids. Asteroids have no gravity, which makes digging and blasting very difficult.
"It just seems silly to me," he said.
The moon has 1/6th gravity, which still makes mining a challenge, but a lot more feasible, Hickam thought. The moon also has many of the things Cameron and his board might be interested in. Asteroids, he pointed out, have been pelting the moon for millennia. Cameron could mine those if he wanted.
Mining on the moon would, naturally, present its own set of problems. For example, compared to terrestrial dust, moon dust is very abrasive and jagged, like ground-up glass.
"Mining on the moon would be a nasty mess, but so is coal, and we figured out how to mine that."
All of that seemed like a solid basis for his book, which is part one in a proposed trilogy. Still, while Hickam said he had a firm grasp on the scientific side of "Crater," he had other kinds of challenges.
"The trouble I ran into is I don't know much about modern teenagers," he said. "Really, none of us do, unless we are teenagers."
Hickam hoped that teenagers in the future would be kind of like teenagers where he's from -- not better than the kids today, just different and maybe closer to kids he understands.
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.