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People Are Already Opening Accounts to Save for Space

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the halcyon days of yore, people put away money with the hopes of retiring somewhere warm, where they could argue about chicken salad with other curmudgeons until they expired. But very soon, the new retirement hotspot might be on Mars. While billionaires like Elon Musk have long touted human settlement of the Red Planet, at least a few ordinary folks are listening—and saving up money accordingly.

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After SpaceX’s most recent success with the launch and landing of a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket, everyone in (and out of) the aerospace community was buzzing about the next steps. The big benefit of reusable rockets is that they’ll make space travel cheaper, and therefore more accessible, for the average person—at least that’s what Musk and his company claim.

Following that launch, automated investing service Betterment, which assists folks in planning for big-ticket life events like retirement, pulled some data on its customers. In a search of 250,000 accounts, the company’s analysts found that among the usual account types (e.g. retirement, anniversary trip), there were 22 accounts set up for either “Mars” or “Space.” According to Betterment, some accounts are receiving $1,000 a month in deposits, and one, opened in January 2016, has a staggering $60,000 saved. Betterment told Gizmodo that the earliest space-related account was set up in March 2014.

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“I think there’s a nice dovetail here with Elon [Musk] and SpaceX, who are looking far into the future of where humanity is going to be, and what we need to do to bootstrap ourselves into the stars,” Dan Egan, Betterment’s VP of behavioral finance, told Gizmodo. “The whole idea is that over time, the price of [space travel] will come down, and if our customers start saving, they’re going to be able to afford that.”

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

Indeed, Elon Musk has already touted a relatively affordable $200,000 price tag for SpaceX-led trips to Mars. Egan said that by Betterment’s calculations, a customer would have to contribute $263 dollars a month in order to get to Mars in 30 years, assuming a 6 percent annual realized return—in English, that means how much you gained/lost over a year. So, the future is now-ish.

“These are goals that are pretty serious,” Egan added. “Two of [the accounts] have about $1,000 going into them on a monthly basis, which is not an insignificant amount of money.” According to Egan, the company’s average clients tend to “be individuals earning more than $200,000 a year” and “tech-enabled.”

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So who the hell are these financial unicorns who have enough money to comfortably afford food, rent, and space travel? We spoke with one of them—a lawyer named Michael Cappo, who lives and works in the midwest. He opened a space tourism account with Betterment three years ago and has been socking away a few hundred dollars per month.

Cappo explained that space exploration has been a life-long fascination of his, in addition to traveling in general. “Growing up, my dad was really into sci-fi and aliens,” he explained. “So I’ve always had an interest in space, and combining that with really liking to travel...it would be a fun adventure.”

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While he’s still mulling over whether or not he’d like to end up on Mars, Cappo said he’s very interested in checking out commercial space tourism opportunities, like those being created by SpaceX and Blue Origin. Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule will send people on short stints into suborbital space, while SpaceX plans to carry two passengers around the Moon next year in its Dragon 2 spacecraft.

“I’d like to return home to Earth, but we’ll see what happens,” Cappo said. “A lot of [space tourism technology] is developing pretty quickly, so maybe the answer will be different in 50 years.”

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Ideally, a sojourn in space would be the ultimate getaway. But although commercial entities continue to develop impressive tourism vehicles, the risks of sending untrained citizens off Earth remain very real. As for retiring on another planet, we’re still just learning how long-duration spaceflight and extended time in microgravity affect the human body, say nothing of psychological element that comes with being stuck on a barren planet. Needless to say, folks who are planning ahead ought to be sure they’re thinking about the potential medical bills.

Image Courtesy of Blue Origin
Image Courtesy of Blue Origin
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Cappo added that he’s aware of the risks of spaceflight but doesn’t really have any reservations.

“I feel pretty secure,” he said. “But hopefully by the time I would be in the position to go, some of the kinks will be worked out.”

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Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go until there’s a Margaritaville on Mars. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how popular the early bird special is there.

Space Writer, Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

My goal is to be one of the people who develop a ship with spinning sections for gravity and heavy shielding built in space using material harvested from space. That takes a lot of up-front engineering and development of autonomous systems to go out there, gather material, and bring it to a central location (maybe the L5 Lagrange point) and assemble a ship and/or framework. If we can get the hull and shielding material built, we could probably build more complex components such as engines and other systems on the ground and then use the automated systems to ferry the components into place. Water seems to be pretty common in space - so we should be able to find a lot of ways to make fuel (our automated systems would then be able to transport/mine/etc. relatively consistently) and if we could find a space-based source of radioactive material such as uranium for reactors, we could build a set of cold reactors on the ground, and ship them up without any threat to the planet and load the fuel in space. That would allow us to build a NERVA style rocket system that could put an obscene amount of payload into mars orbit in half the time of a pure chemically propelled system.

I have aspirations of being the ridiculously well paid cargo provider for the mars colonies. :P (Actually, I want to explore space, and doing so in a comfortable, well shielded and large ship with enough crew to make life normal-ish would be nice.) I’d love to visit mars, I don’t think I’d like to live there. :)