Let it never be said that PayPal’s leadership team confines its ambitions to Earth. PayPal founder Elon Musk, who also created SpaceX, says he wants to live the final days of his life on Mars. But who wants to go to space if you can’t buy stuff? That’s why PayPal is now talking about how to create a payment system that can be used on any planet.
It’s apparently not a joke. PayPal President David Marcus wrote a blog post yesterday about the launch of “PayPal Galactic” (that link doesn’t work yet), an initiative developed in concert with the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). An announcement will be made today at the SETI Institute with moon traveler Buzz Aldrin and John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society. To show he’s serious, Marcus tweeted a picture of himself with Aldrin.
PayPal says its wants to answer these questions:
What will our standard currency look like in a truly cash-free interplanetary society?
How will the banking systems have to adapt?
How will risk and fraud management systems need to evolve?
What regulations will we have to conform with?
How will our customer support need to develop?
Why start now? “Space travel is opening up for ‘the rest of us’ thanks to Virgin Galactic, Space X and a host of other space tourism programs including the Space Hotel that hopes to be in orbit by 2016,” Marcus wrote. “The enabling infrastructure pieces are starting to come together, and as we start planning to inhabit other planets, the practical realities of life still need to be addressed.”
The need for a payment system off Earth already exists, he contended, writing that “[a]stronauts inhabiting space stations today still need to pay for life’s necessities—from their bills back on Earth to their entertainment, like music and e-books, while in space.”
That problem has already been solved, however. Astronauts on the International Space Station have had access to the Internet and World Wide Web “via the ultimate wireless connection” since January 2010. As long as the Internet can expand throughout space, there’s no reason Internet-based payment systems can’t as well. Latency from one part of the galaxy to another might make things difficult, however. Where will the bank or other central authority be located, and how can it validate transactions from payers light-minutes or light-hours away?
And if we ever meet aliens and have to come up with an inter-species payment system—that might get tricky for completely different reasons.
hass and associates, PayPal teams with ET searchers to create interplanetary payment system