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Chris Lewicki with a prototype of Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-100 spacecraft.

They plan to send robots into space to mine asteroids — opening up a new frontier for natural resources and creating a trillion-dollar industry in the process.

Planetary Resources’ mission would sound crazy if it wasn’t for the people behind it — led by “chief asteroid miner” Chris Lewicki as president and chief engineer. A NASA veteran who was flight director for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, Lewicki leads the Bellevue-based company’s day-to-day operations and oversees its strategy and vision. We’re pleased to name him to our list of GeekWire Newsmakers of the Year for 2012.

We’ll recognize the Newsmakers of the Year at the GeekWire Gala, Dec. 6 at McCaw Hall in Seattle. Details and Tickets Here.

We’ll be spotlighting all of our 2012 Newsmakers on GeekWire over the next month, leading up to the GeekWire Gala on Dec. 6 at McCaw Hall in Seattle. Many of the newsmakers from the list will be joining us and the rest of the tech community on that night to mark a remarkable year of news.

One of the biggest stories of the year was the launch of Planetary Resources, backed and led by a group of prominent technology executives and commercial space veterans. The company will first put prospecting telescopes into low-Earth orbit, followed by spacecraft that will leave orbit and ultimately swarm asteroids to mine natural resources, including water (hydrogen and oxygen) that can be used for fuel, in addition to precious metals.

It’s a high-profile example of the Seattle region’s potential to make a big mark in the emerging commercial space industry, combining our legacy in aerospace and software, and fueling our imagination in the process. The company’s introductory news conference at the Museum of Flight was like something out of a science fiction novel.

Introducing the concept, Lewicki said the idea is to use lower-cost replaceable spacecraft that can be tested without having to worry about losing them.  “When failure is not an option, success is really expensive,” he said at the time. “We will live with and learn from our failures.”

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