Asteroids rich in minerals and precious metals will power the economy of the future and generate immense wealth for the innovators who tap in to them, but reaching these far-flung mother lodes will require a boost in public spending on space exploration, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said in an interview with CNBC's "On the Money."
"You have to innovate," said Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and host of the new television program "Star Talk" on the National Geographic Channel.
Tyson, who became a household name in 2014 hosting Fox's revival of the acclaimed PBS documentary series "Cosmos," said that "the engines of tomorrow's economy" are the breakthroughs and patents today that take humanity "to a place intellectually, physically, that has never been reached before."
Government has a role, too, in funding and furthering the research, and assuming some of the up-front risks and costs of exploratory space mining, he said.
"The first Europeans to the New World were not the Dutch East India Trading Co.," said Tyson. "It was Columbus — paid by Spain. It was a national initiative."
"Once he drew the maps and knew where the trade winds are, and [where] the friendlies and the hostiles were, then commercial enterprise can come in," he said.
To chart a similar path in the heavens, he said, America must rededicate itself to manned spaceflight — and stop cutting NASA's budget, which at $17.5 billion for fiscal 2015 amounts to less than 0.5 percent of annual federal spending.
That compares to a high point of 4.5 percent in 1966, "during the Cold War years of the space race," writes CNBC's Katie Kramer, citing figures from the Office of Management and Budget.
Tyson told CNBC the payoff for public investment in off-Earth exploration will be huge.
"There's this vast universe of limitless energy and limitless resources," he said. "I look at wars fought over access to resources. That could be a thing of the past, once space becomes our backyard."
"The first trillionaire there will ever be is the person who exploits the natural resources on asteroids," said Tyson.
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