The first story in the anthology Far Orbit, “Open for Business” could have been ripped from today’s headlines. As I write this, humankind has reached a turning point in space exploration—a point where funding for big government space projects is decreasing and private funding for practical, goal-driven business ventures, like the one in this story, is increasing. Recent headlines have touted the successful launch and recovery of SpaceX’s commercial launch systems, the onset of space tourism, and Golden Spike’s plans for profitable commercial flights to the moon. In contrast with some of these more grandiose space business plans, two companies, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, have announced measured initiatives to begin asteroid prospecting operations using small CubeSats and off-the-shelf technologies. “Open for Business” floats effortlessly on this sea of current events. The story reads like mid-century science fiction of the Grand Tradition, but there is a twist: Rather than following the steely-eyed lead scientist, the author provides a more human approach by telling the story through the point of view of a slightly neurotic attorney.
Sam Kepfield was born in 1963, and raised in western Kansas. He graduated from Kansas State University in 1986, and received his law degree from the University of Nebraska in 1989. He practices law full-time in Hutchinson, Kansas, in order to support his writing habit. His work has appeared in Science Fiction Trails, Aiofe’s Kiss, The Future Fire, and a number of anthologies. His first novel, Magic Man, Gold Dust Woman, and the Dream Machine, was published in March 2013.
by Sam S. Kepfield
“Not just any dot,” Terry replied confidently, flashing that toothy Kennedyesque smile.
“What are you up to?” Greg asked Terry over a wheat beer. Greg was tall, with blond hair that he wore long in the back, swept back from a high forehead, a strong, angular face and a body built the old-fashioned way, lugging hay bales on his dad’s farm out by the Colorado line. He wore faded jeans and denim shirt, gray Tony Lamas, which was about as dressy as he got at whatever super-secret division he toiled for at Boeing.
“This is Asteroid 2009 BT,” he said, pointing to a small light smudge in a starfield. “It’s a near-earth asteroid. Makes a loop around every fifteen years or so.” Terry worked as a subcontractor to NASA for their near-earth asteroid tracking program.
“How big?” Greg asked.
“A mile in diameter. Classified as stony-iron, meaning it’s mainly nickel-iron ore, but with a good amount of precious metals mixed in. Look here,” he said, hitting a couple more keys, producing a spectrograph. “Over 75% nickel-iron, but plenty of palladium, titanium, platinum, cobalt and—gold.”
“Nickel? About equal to three year’s world production. Iron, about the same. Gold—enough to make whoever mines it the fifth largest holder in the solar system. Conservative estimate is ten to fifteen trillion dollars’ worth.”
“Aaaannnd?” I asked, beginning to see where this was going.
“And it’s there for the taking. 2009 BT makes an approach to within 45,000 miles of the Earth in eighteen months. All it needs is a little nudge to put it into orbit.”
“So NASA’s going to send a mission to intercept it?”
“No,” Terry beamed. “We are.”
(...Read the full story in Far Orbit: Speculative Space Adventures.)