Of Course PayPal Is Launching an Interplanetary Payments Service

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 27 2013 1:39 PM

Of Course PayPal Is Launching an Interplanetary Payments Service

Golf on the moon
PayPal figures they'll need a way to settle up at the end of their skins game.

Illustration by Pat Rawlings / Courtesy of PayPal

PayPal brought in astronaut Buzz Aldrin on Thursday to announce the launch of PayPal Galactic, an initiative to figure out a way for people to pay each other while traveling in space or living on other planets.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

No, it isn’t a joke. And while it may sound like a publicity stunt, both Aldrin and PayPal president David Marcus promised that it’s also a genuine business proposition—albeit one that remains some years away.

Advertisement

"It’s not unrealistic to predict we’re only a generation away from a permanent human presence on Mars,” said Aldrin, who became the second man on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. He added, “Whether it’s paying a bill or even helping a family member on Earth, we’ll need access to money.”

PayPal’s Marcus said the program, launched in partnership with the SETI Institute, would “increase public awareness of the important questions that need to be addressed” as commercial space travel increases. “We may not answer these questions today or even this year, but one thing is clear: We won’t be using cash in space.” John Spencer of the Space Tourism Society predicted that the first “space hotels” will open up shop within the next decade, and will need a payments system.

It’s not a bad idea for PayPal to get in on the ground floor. But that doesn’t mean the company won’t have competition once space commerce gets going. Skip Smith, the former head of space law for the Air Force, told the Verge’s Casey Newton that most people today pre-pay for goods and services while they’re still on the ground. But he said that credit cards could be an option if and when space hotels become a reality:

"Once you're up there, if you want to buy an extra bottle of champagne, they can probably run that on your charge card," Smith said. But longer stays in orbit, and the colonization of new planets, will make that more difficult. Eventually, he said — maybe 20 years from now — new solutions will need to emerge.

Space tourism is already happening on a small scale, with Space Adventures leading wealthy private citizens on trips to the International Space Station, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic getting into the game. But the real money in the next couple of decades could be in deep-space mining, where startups like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are looking to drill into asteroids for precious metals and other booty.

If this is indeed the beginning of a new gold rush—or platinum rush—it makes sense that PayPal, a company co-founded by SpaceX’s Elon Musk, would be there to capitalize. It’s a big universe, but when it comes to the people with the means and vision to explore it, it’s actually a pretty small world.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.