hey dad, can I borrow a few space bucks?
In October of last year, foreign exchange expert Travelex launched a new currency of its own design, the QUID. Normally, a quid is slang for a pound sterling in the UK, but in this case, it’s an acronym for Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination and it was designed to be used as the currency for future space tourists around the world.
The reasoning behind the QUIDs is that today’s bills and coins are safety hazards on take-offs and landings while credit cards would be compromised or erased by radiation. Hence, Travelex created small, teflon spheres encased in a protective plastic shell without sharp edges. As you might expect, the concept wasn’t without its critics. Nature.com wrote a scathing bit on it and Wired wasn’t much nicer. Some legal scholars also wondered whether actually using the QUID could cause all sorts of legal problems and require a lot of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo before the currency could be legitimately used.
Today, the QUID has faded from the headlines and is unlikely to come back for a while. If you’re among the lucky people who’ll soon be taking off on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two or visiting Bigelow Airspace’s first operational space hotels, your flight will be pre-paid. Vehicles that can launch a Vegas style floating resort, casino and shopping mall into orbit won’t be around for at least four or five decades and the need to use extra money in space just wouldn’t be there. I’m also sure that the computers on a space station in the far future could calculate what you owe on top of your ticket and basic travel package, and bill your credit card on Earth.
Of course this doesn’t mean that the QUID is a complete dead end. If in the next few centuries, humans begin traveling to the stars on one way colonization missions, they’ll be creating local economies when they land. They’ll need to exchange goods and services. On Earth, exchanges like this are facilitated by global markets. In space, the solution is likely to be very similar, but it will need a durable currency that comes in both cash and electronic forms. It’s possible that in the year 2408, colonists on a space station somewhere around Epsilon Eridani will be shopping for Christmas presents using something very much like the QUID or one of its descendants.
I do wonder though, on what would the value of an extrasolar QUID be based? It’s probably not going to be virtual like many currencies on Earth since it would be impossible to trade it in real time on an Earth-based interstellar currency exchange. But would it use gold or platinum as its measurement? Or something more practical like deuterium, tritium or even antimatter?