Do we need space dollars?


The following essay was produced as part of my 2013 effort for the November National Novel Writing Month effort. As such, please understand that while I did give it a quick review, it has not gone through the same proofreading and editing I normally try to give all of the material posted on this site.

I always make some mistakes. There are errors to be found throughout this web site, and many exist despite dozens of attempts to correct problems. That said, ask that you approach this material in the spirit intended – a basic thought, slightly worked out and very informally researched, delivered in the hopes of writing more than 50,000 words by the end of November.

Thank you.

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Here’s a question for you…

When you visit Mars, how do you plan on paying for a pack of gum?

Oh yeah… sure, sure… you think I’m going nuts.

But PayPal is ready for you. Or ready for this. (Or getting ready for this. (Whatever… here’s the article.))

In general, I get the idea. Someday soon you may find yourself orbiting Jupiter… pulled over at a rest area near Neptune… frequenting a bar several light years away. And you run into Han Solo or Arthur Dent or the three-breasted woman from Total Recall and decide you want to buy them a drink. But oh no! This Jupiter moon base doesn’t take American Express.

What will you do?

You don’t want to be all embarrassed and such. (Especially not with Han around.)

The thing is… well, the things are:

First up -- How does this really involve those of us on Earth? Last time I checked, most of the people we’re sending up don’t need their wallets with them. I feel very comfortable saying the International Space Station isn’t asking people to pay for their own meals. And, just a hunch, if you’ve paid for a trip into space, they aren’t going to make you pay for your soda when the beverage cart comes around. Heck… I feel pretty certain that even Lady Gaga (who is rumored to be singing in space soon… you do your own search for the stories on that one) will have made arrangements to get compensated in advance for her appearance, and she won’t need a place that can cash a check once in orbit.

Second up -- Is it our place to decide the space currency? And this is the important idea here… if we are going to continue and try to be a bit serious, let’s move over to a new paragraph…

See, if we’re being realistic, there are two possibilities for needing money in space… and only two possibilities.

The first of these is that we have established a new community… a space colony for lack of a better phrase… and have hundreds of people in an organized, civilized, society, where some form of agreed upon money is needed… where the possibility of linking to the technologies and resources on this planet might not be efficient (or even possible).

To my knowledge, while I get the premise that at some point we could have hundreds of people living millions of miles away, we aren’t that close to sending Martin Landau or Barbara Bain to the moon. (Go look it up… that’s a pretty decent joke there. Certainly better that trying to figure out something involving Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mars.)

Simply put, we aren’t closing in on establishing groups that need the ability to spend money or exchange currency or in whatever way need a system of value for purchases in space. And, while I certainly admit that space travel is closer than many of us might truly be aware of, see the first point, which is that I just don’t see where those first privatized space pioneers will need to know what to do if they plan on leaving a tip.

And that leads us to the second possibility.

(Please stay with me here.)

We need money for commerce with aliens.

(I really, really want to make a joke about ET needing change for a pay phone, but I’m going to avoid it. Not because of how old the movie is… but because we don’t have pay phones and telephone booths any more. (So there.) However…)

I’ve given this a bit of thought, and tried to make sense of the PayPal scenario. From attachments to smartphones to all sorts of other concepts, the dynamics of money… how it’s used, how it’s moved, and so on… are changing all the time. So coming up with something new isn’t really all that crazy, regardless of my stance that those we send up are not likely to be considered mass consumers.

Ok… for now. At some point though, whether twenty years down the road… two centuries from today… or even more distantly into the future… I think most of us believe space travel will be pursued. And, that might mean needing some way of accounting for monies.

But if we’re dealing with people from Earth, then most of this shouldn’t be much different than how we already deal with each other. A colony on the moon could, conceivably, simply be like two countries doing business.

Which brings us back to the question I had coming out of reading this article, and that got me typing -- Why would we need special currency for space? -- and the response I arrived at was that it would involve some alien culture.

This is really the only option that comes to mind as making sense.

Sure, we will need money when we start a colony of earthlings on Saturn. A full colony… with an interstellar Walmart or such for everyone to use for buying discount tires for whatever version of a lunar rover they’re using. Honestly though, for the most part we would still be dealing with each other. And the same way I can go to Australia and change currency there, I think we could assume that whoever establishes Saturnbase Alpha will have a claim for their country’s currency to be front and center. (See that… we could take off in a direction where the euro takes over the moons of Jupiter! But I won’t.)

The real reason for developing space dollars doesn’t have much to do with us and us alone.

It would have to do with establishing a way to exchange currency with those from another planet.

And, may I be so bold as to ponder… if we develop a space currency, and figure out a way for all the countries on Earth to accept what color to make that currency -- that’s a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy joke there… what color to make it -- there is no guarantee that I can figure out where a life form from another planet will automatically accept it as being the equivalent of one hundred dollars on their place of residence, Ben Franklin’s portrait and color shifting bell and an embedded security ribbon or not.

For now… private space race or no… the need for space currency honestly doesn’t strike me as immediate or daunting.

Of course, when I start packing for that trip, I may change my mind when I start wondering where I’ll be stopping when I need to refuel and grab a snack.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at