PayPal and SETI aim to go galactic with off-planet currency system
2013-07-02 0:00

By Iain Thomson | The Register

When PayPal launched 15 years ago it billed itself as the worldís first global currency. Now the company is looking to kick-start a conversation into how to become the payment platform for the solar system with PayPal Galactic.

"The time is right today because of all of the interest and movement and money and private/public options that are now moving into space," Anuj Nayar, PayPalís director of communications told The Register. "This is a real renaissance in space."

Joining the company in the PayPal Galactic initiative are the SETI Institute, the Space Tourism Society, and the pugilistic* former astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Together the group is looking at ways of providing a valid currency and banking system that can be used inside the Earthís gravity well and beyond.

Nayar said that with Virgin Galactic preparing for inner space flight later this year and space hotels forecast within the next five, now was the time to start thinking about off-world currencies and PayPal wanted to be in the vanguard of any such efforts.

There are currently no laws governing currency in space and Nayar said that the field was the "Wild West" for financiers. Paypal will be focusing on finding ways to connect people to their accounts in orbit and set down a financial framework for avoiding fraud and tax evasion.


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Space bucks: PayPal begins work on an off-world monetary system
By Alan Boyle | MSN News

PayPal has gathered together a team of scientists to address a question that science-fiction writers have been dealing with for decades: How will we handle money in outer space?

"Everybodyís focusing on the íhowí of going into space ... but nobodyís thinking about what youíre going to do when youíre up there," Anuj Nayar, senior director of communications and social media at PayPal, told NBC News.

To think more deeply about space bucks, the online-payment company has enlisted the Space Tourism Society, the SETI Institute and even Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin for what it calls the PayPal Galactic initiative.

"Trips to Mars, the moon, even orbit will require we provide astronauts and astro-tourists with as many comforts from home as possible, including how to pay each other. Whether itís paying a bill, even helping a family member on Earth, weíll need access to money," Aldrin said, in a statement released in advance of Thursdayís formal kickoff at the SETI Instituteís Silicon Valley headquarters.

How to pay in space

Todayís astronauts rely on earthbound representatives to take care of their financial details while theyíre in orbit. Signing over power of attorney is standard procedure for space station astronauts. But financial matters could get more complicated for future tourists who go into space. "The reality is that thereís a host of people on the ground who look after the astronauts who are up there right now," Nayar said. "We donít have that infrastructure. We donít have those people and systems to make what we want to happen a reality."

The first space tourists could be launched as early as next year, aboard rocket planes that are being developed by Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace. Those suborbital jaunts are expected to last only a few hours ó but within the next few years, itís conceivable that private-sector passengers will be going into orbit for extended stays aboard commercial space stations built by Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace or Russiaís Orbital Technologies and RSC Energia.

John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society, said itís not too early to start thinking about commerce and payment systems designed for space travelers. "When I got the call from our PayPal friends, I just remember smiling and thinking itís a good time for this group to get involved," he told NBC News.

The SETI Institute is also lending its expertise, and in return, PayPal is lending support to the instituteís research by setting up a crowdfunding campaign powered by FundRazr. "If we in fact are successful at finding ways to work and play in space, weíre going to want to be there too, you and me," the SETI Instituteís Jill Tarter said in a video about PayPalís initiative. "And inevitably itís going to need some kind of monetary currency."

Cash-free in zero-G?

The PayPal Galactic initiative will look at the sorts of issues already encountered on Earth ó such as fraud protection, hidden banking charges, identity theft and unanticipated currency swings ó plus other problems peculiar to the space environment. "One thing is clear," PayPalís president, David Marcus, said in Thursdayís statement, "we wonít be using cash in space."


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