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As People Head Into Space, PayPal Says It Will Follow Them

Many people know how to buy things in cyberspace. But what about doing business in outer space? That's the question PayPal says it wants to answer. Citing the looming era of space tourism, the company is creating the PayPal Galactic project along with the SETI Institute, "to help make universal space payments a reality."

The two organizations are announcing their new joint effort Thursday, saying they hope to help solve the big questions that arise with commerce in space. The first hotel orbiting the Earth is slated to open in the next few years.

"Space tourism is opening up to all of us in the next decade or so and we want to make sure that PayPal is the preferred way to pay from space and in space," PayPal President David Marcus says, in a video accompanying the announcement.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the questions the PayPal Galactic project will take on:

  • How will the banking systems have to adapt?
  • How will risk and fraud management systems evolve?
  • What regulations will we have to conform with?

"PayPal envisions exploring possibilities in space the way that we do, breaking boundaries to make real progress," says SETI astronomer Jill Tarter. "When the SETI Institute succeeds in its exploration of the universe, and as we find our place among the stars, PayPal will be there to facilitate commerce, so people can get what they need, and want, to live outside of our planet."

Among the possibilities are things as rudimentary as paying bills back on Earth while you're out in space, either working as an astronaut or traveling as a tourist. And because life can be quiet in the dark vacuum of space, PayPal expects people living there will need a way to buy things like music and e-books.

"Within five to ten years the earliest types of 'space hotels' and orbital and lunar commerce will be operational and in need of a payment system," says John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society, which is taking part in the research.

The PayPal Galactic project will also try to answer the question, "What will our standard currency look like in a truly cash-free interplanetary society?"

To explore that idea, the company sent out a release that lists currencies used in science fiction, from the Federation credits of Star Trek to the cubits of Battlestar Galactica... and even the mice of V.

The exploration of how space travelers might pay for things in space is the latest look we've gotten at how people are preparing for space travel to become more common, and more prolonged.

Most notably, news emerged recently that NASA had awarded a contract to experiment with using a 3-D printer to create food for space travelers, possibly for an eventual trip to Mars.

The Galactic project coincides with the 15th anniversary of PayPal's founding; now a part of eBay, the company says it currently services more than 128 million active accounts in more than 190 markets worldwide.

"We wanted to bring the experience we've learned over the last 15 years to help the industry answer the difficult questions that an interplanetary commerce system brings," says PayPal's senior communications director, Anuj Nayar.

The project also includes a crowdfunding campaign to support SETI and its research — and, we assume, to help find new markets in space.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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