June 28, 2013, 4:02 PM

From e-commerce to space commerce?

PayPal thinks so, which is why it’s working with SETI.

Lead Photo

As humankind in greater numbers breaks the chain of earthly gravity, colonizes the moon and Mars, and eventually makes it way to distant solar systems, society will unshackle itself from the economic tyranny that is money. Such is the vision offered by “Star Trek” and other science fiction works.

To which PayPal said this week: Fat chance of that happening anytime soon.

The eBay Inc.-owned payment service this week announced the launch of PayPal Galactic, an effort designed to “prepare and support the future of space commerce.” Working with the SETI Institute, the privately funded research group known for its efforts to discover extraterrestrial intelligence, PayPal is looking ahead to when humans will need a monetary system in space.

If this seems no more than a branding ploy or some far-fetched fun, consider that this move comes as private investors and companies—including Virgin Galactic (part of Richard Bronson’s Virgin Group) and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (founded by Elon Musk, one of the early drivers behind PayPal)—are building and testing technology designed to put private citizens in space.

“As space tourism programs are opening space travel, this drives questions about the commercialization of space,” says David Marcus, PayPal president.  “We are launching PayPal Galactic, in conjunction with leaders in the scientific community, to increase public awareness of the important questions that need to be addressed. PayPal has already pushed payments into the Internet, onto phones and across terrestrial borders. We look forward to pushing payments from our world to the next, and beyond.”

The partnership with PayPal stems from SETI’s work in “addressing questions for which there are no known answers,” a spokeswoman for SETI tells Internet Retailer. “Silicon Valley is filled with critical and creative thinkers, and a lot of them come to our doors,” she says, noting that Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen helped to fund the Allen Telescope Array, a radio telescope research venture involving SETI. (Allen also has invested in a private suborbital commercial spacecraft.)

The relationship between PayPal and SETI involves no financial deals, a PayPal spokesman says. "PayPal has not made any donation to SETI, nor has SETI put out any requests for proposals for payment systems or anything like that," he says. "This was strictly a PayPal initiative and SETI was a natural partner."

As part of this program, PayPal has launched a “crowdfunding campaign” for the Curiosity Movement, a SETI program that focuses on science and education projects. Today, after 38 hours, the program had gained about $38,000 in donations, according to the SETI web site.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, gave his blessing to PayPal Galactic. “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,” he said. “Whether it’s paying a bill, even helping a family member on Earth, we’ll need access to money.  I think humans will reach Mars, and I would like to see it happen in my lifetime.”

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