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.
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.
Bank Shots: So Gayle, do astronauts carry the right stuff into space?
Gayle: No, they don’t take money with them. What would they use it for?
Bank Shots: I dunno. Space bets, maybe? Are they allowed to carry a wad into orbit?
Gayle: I would imagine they could if they wanted because they are allowed to take personal items with them. They have a ton of pockets on their flight suits, if they wear them; sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
Bank Shots: Whoa, WTMI! This is a family site.
Gayle: They are allowed to take a certain amount of personal items by weight. Sometimes they take pictures of their kids, for instance. They are not prohibited from taking money. I guess they just think it’s a waste of time.
Bank Shots: Would they take space money, do you think? Like a QUID? It’s specifically designed for interstellar travel.
Gayle: Is it different from other money?
Bank Shots: Well, it’s roundish. They’re plastic oblongs of different colors.
Gayle: I think someone is trying to make some money. Where would you spend money in space? Even on the space station, they don’t have any vending machines.
I couldn’t argue with that logic.
Still, for as much money as we spend to get them up there, it doesn’t seem right to send our astronauts into space without cab fare.
Come on, NASA. Issue our orbiters some space QUIDs.
At least give them enough to buy a Milky Way.
Veteran Bankrate contributing editor Jay MacDonald lives in Austin, Texas. If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Bank Shots.