As it turns out, astronauts and astro-tourists need payments love too. That’s at least the point of view of PayPal, the SETI Institute (a non-profit that is dedicated to exploring “the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe,” and Space Tourism Society – and the raison d’etre for the launch of PayPal Galactic today. I have to admit that it sounded a bit out of this world to me (yes, I really did just say that) but here’s the news.
It has long been reported that space tourism will launch in December 2013 for, in the words of David Marcus, PayPal president, “the rest of us” – or at least those with a cool $250k burning a hole in their space suits, just waiting for the chance to take a trip to space. Virgin Galactic will take its first passengers to space- those regular Joe’s who’ve signed up include Richard Branson, Leonardo DiCaprio, the Biebs and Ashton Kutcher. As I mentioned in our little piece on this last week, something like 600 people have already paid money to take such a trip and 700 said they will plunk down money when there is evidence that these programs actually work (and probably that people come back alive). Space tourism as a category is expected to ramp up over the next decade.
PayPal believes that its payments platform was the catalyst to eCommerce when it was founded and launched nearly 15 years ago, and there’s something to that – at least on eBay. They point out, and rightly so, that it took more than a decade for eCommerce to get its terrestrial groove on, and that its founders wouldn’t or couldn’t have even imagined the volume of transactions and activity that PayPal drives today – some 7 million of them per day, according to PayPal. So, with that as inspiration, PayPal has its sights set on (with a nod to Star Trek) the “final frontier” – space, and what commerce might look like some 10-plus years from now when space tourism ignites. All of the commerce associated with getting people and supplies to and from space may require new ways of thinking about how transacting is done in an extra-terrestrial environment.
As one who never understood the fascination with Star Trek, didn’t really think ET was all that cute and just about died of boredom sitting thru 2001 A Space Odyssey, it was really hard for me initially to wrap my head around just why space tourists would need money in space (or why anyone would even want to go to space in the first place). It’s not like space tourists are going to be walking up and down Space Main Street buying stuff and taking those yummy freeze dried cashews from the mini bar. And getting that Galactic mani/pedi from the Space Spa would probably be charged back to the hotel bill like it is today. And hey, for $250k I better get a whole lot of free peanuts and freeze-dried champagne. But, in PayPal Galactic’s vision, that bill will be linked to a PayPal account.
PayPal cites another need for new commerce processes and that is the need for astronauts (and astro-tourists) to be able to take care of financial necessities back home while in space. PayPal Galactic wants to accommodate those space travelers’ needs – whether they be paying bills or simply entertaining themselves during those lonely orbits around Earth by shopping online – using their PayPal accounts, of course.
I know what you’re thinking: is this for real? Well, it is very forward thinking.
I will mention one thing that came up in my conversations with PayPal about this initiative that I thought was pretty interesting. PayPal’s teams used Galactic as an opportunity to do greenfield planning for how a commerce system built completely from the ground up would look like and have to operate. For instance, lots of new mobile initiatives leverage technologies enabled by satellites but what happens when you are orbiting above the range of those satellites? Good question! So, PayPal apparently has uncovered a number of interesting insights that they believe will help to inform commerce and their own systems here on Planet Earth. So, just as the space missions of yesterday helped us develop lots of important medical and scientific breakthroughs, maybe the notion of using space commerce as a thought-starter for how to improve commerce on Earth could lead to new thinking for the rest of us who aren’t all that interested in putting space travel on our bucket lists.
PayPal Galactic is being kicked off today at noon at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA, with David Marcus and none other than famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin himself. Buzz was the second person to walk on the Moon back in 1967, nearly thirty years before the commercial internet was born. Back then, the most innovative thing that went into space with him was Tang, that nasty freeze-dried orange drink which Buzz recently admitted he hated. If PayPal Galactic has its way, PayPal will be available to space travelers so that they can buy any old freeze dried drink of their choosing as they take in the sights in space.
As for me, I am a woman of simple needs. I just wish I could use PayPal to get a ham sandwich from United when I fly from Boston to San Jose.