Flights of fancy

by Bill Ralston / 19 March, 2013
Owning land on a faraway planet seems like a safe investment.
Lingua Franca cartoon by Steve Bolton
“Why can’t we just say lingua franca in English?” / Cartoon by Steve Bolton.

For the past few weeks I’ve been ruminating over whether to buy Mighty River Power shares. I know there are about 390,000 referendum petition-signing folk who would be appalled at the fact I’m even thinking about doing so, but they are balanced out by a similar-sized horde who are frantically staking a claim to their bit of the future share issue.

One concern I have is that every share I’ve ever bought has immediately declined in value, which may indicate my investment nous is somewhat lacking. For all I know, partially privatised state-energy assets could be risky, although Solid Energy looks as if it could be a safe bet when it comes on the market.

No, I’ve decided to play it safe. Buy land. I was reading in the New York Times of a fantastic opportunity for the wise investor. In Gardnerville, Nevada, lives Dennis M Hope who has, for the past 30 years, been selling land on the Moon, Mars and Venus – and it is, apparently, a lucrative business.

You may be wondering how the aptly named Mr Hope has legal title to the Moon and planets. Well, he wrote to the United Nations saying he owned them and if the UN disputed that, it should get back to him. The UN never did and so, working on the well-established legal principle of possession being ninetenths of the law and “finders keepers”, he has carried on selling subdivisions in space.

The UN notwithstanding, Hope may be unaware of pending Treaty of Waitangi claims by various iwi and the sure and certain promise of Supreme Court action by the Maori Council. Still, he seems a very determined chap.

As is another bloke, Bas Lansdorp, who has set up a corporation to establish the first manned colony on Mars. He is financing this multi-billion enterprise by selling the reality TV rights to the training, flight and settlement of the 80,000 colonists who will have paid US$500,000 for the privilege.

The downside of Lansdorp’s plan is that it will be a one-way ticket, because “technical reasons” prohibit a return flight. Personally, I can nominate a multitude of people for the venture. The Kardashians would be ideal, as they have experience in the reality genre and are already alien life-forms.

A further downside to investing in this enterprise is that about two-thirds of unmanned missions to Mars have “failed”. Such failure could be annoying for people on manned flights, because although they wished “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, they might be less impressed to end up passing Pluto and eventually exiting the solar system.

Also, I would not advise taking your children on the flight, as travel to Mars takes about nine months and the endless wails of “Are we there yet?” would drive a parent to distraction.

There are other obstacles to Martian settlement, such as the need to wear a spacesuit when outside because of the lack of oxygen, the lethal radiation and the fact that all the water is frozen. Then there’s the potential deal-breaker: phone calls to Earth would have a delay of between eight and 24 minutes, which would make calls home to family very frustrating and play havoc with Facebook and Twitter feeds.

However, Lansdorp makes some powerful arguments for this as a money-making venture. He notes that 600 million viewers watched Neil Armstrong’s Moon landing in 1969 – more than the audience for the Olympic Games – and he reckons he can raise at least $6 billion for the epic TV series.

On the whole, though, I prefer the alternative of Hope’s affordable housing on the Moon scheme. The land is much cheaper than anything you’ll find around Auckland these days and the transport problems won’t be anywhere near as bad.
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