Interplanetary snake oil

Buy it now! The Brooklyn Bridge is for sale!

I’m sure you’ve heard of that old scam. It worked, too.

Well, I was amused to come across something similar recently, this time applied to another planet. That’s right folks, you can buy real estate on Mars. Apparently a loophole in the laws concerning ownership of other extraterrestrial real estate allows individuals and corporations to stake claims on other planetary bodies, and register them with the U.S. Government Office of Claim Registries. At least, so say the folks at buymars.com.

At first glance, the going rate seems reasonable, about $30 an acre.

Until one realizes what utter nonsense the whole thing is. Let us even entertain the far-fetched idea that Mars will be colonized within our lifetimes: how likely is it that NASA, or whoever else settles there, is going to respect the right to ownership of land bought as a silly gag over the internet decades previously? Not very likely, methinks.

And colonization has to happen first. And it won’t, at least not in our lifetimes. Right now, the U.S. doesn’t even have the ability to send men into low earth orbit, let alone to the moon or Mars. And NASA has, for many decades now, put off even an apparently straightforward sample return mission to Mars designed bring Martian rocks back to the earth for analysis. It turns out that, on closer inspection, this mission is not straightforward at all: it is fraught with technological difficulties and unattainable cost requirements.

The thing is, I’m sure most people who buy an acre of land on Mars probably know all of this. They’re buying it for the idea of it: it’s novel and fun.

And I guess that’s just fine.

But let’s look at what else we could spend that money on. Food for a hungry child in Somalia. Cancer research. Homeless shelters.

In the long run, then, spending it on an acre of land on Mars is about as useful as flushing it down the toilet. And buymars.com is laughing all the way to the bank.

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