There would have been a time when the idea of using your annual leave to visit space would have been laughable. It would have simply sounded like something from a science fiction novel. But perhaps not for much longer…
With humans now permanently inhabiting the International Space Station and commercial flights to the cosmos soon to become something of the present, trips to outer space are looking likely to become the norm sooner than we think.
Once we’ve come to terms with the idea of going on interstellar holidays, or even living in space, one interesting question springs to mind. How would we pay for life’s essentials?
It’s safe to say that none of our existing payment solutions on Earth will work in space. Cash wouldn’t be a convenient solution; watching the money float away into the solar system when you open your wallet would be less than ideal. While chips and magnetic strips on credit cards would be rendered unusable thanks to the radiation in space.
Using an internet-based payment solution is the most likely option. But unreliable connectivity is the biggest issue, and sending and receiving information from earth would be impractical because of the vast distances. We would most likely need an entirely new solution.
But before we delve into the specifics of splashing our cosmic cash, there would need to be an entirely new currency.
A space currency would need to be versatile. It would start off being for space tourism but could grow into a currency that represents different planets and the trade between them and Earth.
The currency would have to live independently of Earth’s Foreign Exchange Market as it would take too long to communicate with Earth for the true value of the currency to be compared with current currencies on Earth. At its inception, an exchange rate would need to be pegged to a major currency, and let’s not kid ourselves that it wouldn’t be the US Dollar.
Bitcoin is a currency and payment system that could inspire a solution for space. Peer-to-peer and decentralised from a traditional bank, Bitcoin is a digital currency that uses sophisticated encryption techniques to generate units and verify payments.
Although the units of money don’t rely on the internet to exist, the currency needs a connection to verify transactions and to complete a process known as mining. This is where computers around the world process and verify Bitcoin payments using a ledger of transactions to monitor the currency’s inflation. This wouldn’t be possible in space where a WiFi connection is out of the question, but the idea of using digital files as the currency is a concept that could be re-purposed.
So now that we have a digital cosmic currency, we need a way to spend it. Those moon boots don’t buy themselves.
A possible answer could be to use some form of robust yet incredibly simple and low-powered device that you top up with your digital space currency, either on Earth or at a bank in space. This device would store the money independently, without the need to communicate with a bank when the time comes to make a transaction. Think of it more as digital cash than the credit or debit cards we use on Earth.
As for the hardware, it would need to be encased in a thick protective mould that would not only stop the device from being dangerous if dropped in gravity-free zones, but also protect the interior electronics from radiation. For the sake of this theory, we’ll call this device a Cosmic Cash Card, or CCC.
The CCC would have a screen that allows you to interact with your money without the need for a separate computer. It would also feature some form of keyboard that would allow you to verify payments using a key.
When you make a payment, you would have to manually connect CCCs without relying on wireless technology. Exposing the electronics with input and output ports to connect the devices isn’t convenient either. Another option could be to hold the devices together which could optically communicate through their transparent casing while blocking out any external light. You’d just have to ensure you don’t get too close to a black hole or your money will get sucked away! We all know that feeling.
It’s likely your CCC would need to have a physical record of its balance and a backup of transactions – much like a receipt – should the device experience too much cosmic radiation and an insurance claim need to be made.
Over and Out
So there you have it. An insight into how currency and payments could work when the time comes to inhabit space. So what are you waiting for? You’d better get your Cosmic Cash Card topped up and your flights to Mars booked.