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"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
- Jerry Pournelle

Asteroid Mine  
  The practice of seeking out and mining asteroids for their ore.  

This is a relatively early reference; I'm looking for earlier ones.

Sofi Jokai had been operating her wildcat uranium mine on a shoestring before Robots Incorporated approached her with their proposition...

Beyond the laboratory, a somewhat larger igloo housed the mine shaft, reduction plant and tipple. A dilapidated tramp freighter sprawled beside the tipple like a foundered whale.

From Love Among The Robots, by Emmett McDowell.
Published by Planet Stories in 1946
Additional resources -

By the way, a "tipple" is the device used to tip over mining carts to get them to disgorge their contents in a particular place.

Here is another quote from The Mechanical Monarch, a 1958 novel by E.C. Tubb; the speakers on in a Martian colony.

"We can get our water from the pole, our food from the yeast vats, our building materials from the oxidized minerals in the sand... We can even fuel the space ships and mine the Asteroid Belt for rare metals..."

Lars raised himself on one elbow. "As things are now we depend on Earth to buy our asteroid-metal and supply things we can't do without.

Is asteroid mining a useful idea? Think about it this way; in 2004, one billion metric tons of iron ore were mined. Just one M-type asteroid with a mean diameter of one kilometer contains about 2 billion tons of nickel-iron ore.

A significant number of asteroids are believed to be extinct comets. If that is true, mining these 'comet' asteroids would yield significant amounts of water.

The earliest reference I know about can be found in the 1898 novel Edison's Conquest of Mars - see asteroid mining.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Love Among The Robots
  More Ideas and Technology by Emmett McDowell
  Tech news articles related to Love Among The Robots
  Tech news articles related to works by Emmett McDowell

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