smart spending

NASA reveals truth about cash in space

Jay MacDonald Do astronauts carry money into space? And if so, why?

Before we call NASA -- and oh yes, we will call NASA -- to delve deeper into the pocket lint of rocket jockeys than any financial journalist has gone before, let me offer a glimpse into the origin of this inquiry.

These infrequently asked questions occurred to me recently while viewing the first season of HBO's comedy series "Flight of the Conchords."

For those who haven't discovered this wry and witty Kiwi import, it follows the urban adventures of Bret and Jemaine, a clueless but determined New Zealand folk duo trying to make it in New York City.

Not exactly helping their cause are hapless manager Murray, who holds feckless band meetings in his office at the New Zealand consulate; Dave, a Keanu Reeves look-alike and the duo's mentor in American cool; and Mel, the wigged-out housewife/stalker who comprises their fan club of one.

“QUID inventors are banking on a galactic long shot that 'regular trips to space will be commonplace within five years.'”

The show combines the satire of "Spinal Tap" with the goofiness of "The Monkees," as Jemaine and Bret's every awkward encounter with the culture clash inspires one or two whacked-out music video masterpieces per episode.

In the episode that nudged my curiosity, Bret receives nightly visitations from the various incarnations of rock god David Bowie (played by Jemaine, glammed out to the max), who attempts to help him develop a rock star persona.

The climactic musical number takes off on Bowie's Major Tom character ("Space Oddity," "Ashes to Ashes"), with Bowie floating around in space to a techno-folk soundtrack.

Can you spare a QUID?

Dissolve to yours truly, who whilst aimlessly space-walking the Internet discovered a 2007 news release by Travelex, a U.K.-based foreign exchange specialist, introducing the first space money: the Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination, or QUID.

Developed by a team of scientists from the British National Space Centre and the University of Leicester -- who, frankly, should all know better -- QUIDs are color-coded oblong discs of various-sized denominations in "space-qualified polymer" that most resemble the hockey-puck-like pagers restaurants use to shock and awe you when your table is ready.

Each QUID is inscribed with a map of our solar system that "should be meaningful for any intelligent life we might encounter in other planetary systems."

The QUID is not yet backed by the Bank of England -- or Jabba the Hutt, for that matter.

The inventors are banking on a galactic long shot that "regular trips to space will be commonplace within five years."

That may have seemed likely to scientists in 2007, especially those who hadn't cleaned their Bunsen burners recently. Here in the future however, we'll be lucky to afford bus fare to Hoboken by 2012.


Houston, we've lost our wallets

With visions of Bowie and QUIDs dancing to techno in my head, I dialed up Gayle Frere, media coordinator for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, who was kind enough to poll the astronaut corps on my behalf.



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