Protecting the Planet or Destroying the Universe? Understanding Reactions to Space Mining

Matthew J. Hornsey, Kelly S. Fielding, Emily A. Harris, Paul G. Bain, Tim Grice, Cassandra M. Chapman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)


There is currently a surge in interest from both private and government sectors in developing technology for mining asteroids and the moon (“space mining”). One of the key benefits highlighted by advocates of space mining is that it minimizes the usual problems associated with mining on earth in terms of pollution, environmental degradation, and encroachment on human habitats. Two studies—one conducted on a 27-nation sample (N = 4819), the other conducted in the U.S. (N = 607)—provide the first test of the assumed (but never studied) notion that space mining is more palatable to the public than terrestrial mining. Both studies indicate broad support for asteroid mining: levels of support were reliably above the mid-point, and much greater than for other forms of frontier mining such as mining the ocean floor, mining Antarctica, mining the Alaskan tundra, and lunar mining. Unlike terrestrial mining, community attitudes toward mining asteroids were largely non-ideological; support was not correlated with perceptions of ecological fragility, political ideology, or individualistic/hierarchical worldviews. In summary, the current studies suggest that mining companies have a “social license to operate” for mining asteroids, but less so for lunar mining.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4119
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number7
Early online date30 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: Work reported in the current paper was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council (DP180100294).


  • asteroid mining
  • moral foundations
  • political ideology
  • social license to operate
  • space mining

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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