If you’re a con man (or woman, not to discriminate), a hustler, a crook, a swindler, a cheat, you get the idea, let’s say a person out for easy money, you can’t always settle for small stuff. You gotta thing big at times. Because big ideas bring big profits, right?
And what’s as big as the (misguided, egocentric, illegal) ambitions of some cheats? Why, (outer) space, obviously. Plus, getting off the planet is currently a bit difficult and restricted so to say, which only makes things easier in some cases and some particular plays.
At least that’s what I think the people behind the following 5 space based money scams thought when they set them in motion for gullible patrons to fall into. The nerve, I say! Read below for some fascinating space-themed attempts at scamming people.
1. Vintage Souvenirs
Lunokhod 2 is a rover sent by the USSR in January 1973 to the Moon, with the use of an unmanned spacecraft (the Luna 21).
It landed safely and started performing its several mission objectives until the 4th of June that same year when it was announced by the USSR that the Lunokhod 2 mission was over, without any further explanations.
Obviously, Lunokhod 2 was not retrieved and returned to Earth, due to the high costs and the pointlessness of such an attempt.
So everyone was surprised when the company that built it, The Lavochkin Association put it out at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 1993 and managed to sell it for 68,500 $. To none other than gaming entrepreneur Richard Garriott the son of American astronaut Owen K. Garriott.
What’s interesting about this is that there are international treaties that forbid any government to claim property of anything in space. But since Garriott is a person not a government and he made a purchase from a company, he is not per se subjected to the treaties.
In short, he might be the only private owner of an object in space currently. But the fact that the treaties do not discuss his particular scenario doesn’t mean that his property is safe and guaranteed. Time will tell. Anyway, the Lavochkin Association sure made a good deal with the real money they got which they could use right away, eh?
2. The Martian Scions
What could be more frustrating than investing tons of effort and resources into an endeavor to go where no man has gone before (even if not in person, but represented by machines) and finding out that not only has someone else been there, but they even own the damned place?!
But don’t worry, this did not happen to NASA, despite the lawsuit they faced in 1997 from three claiming that NASA had trespassed on their property, a.k.a. Mars, when they landed the Pathfinder roving probe and its rover .
That’s right. Three guys from Yemen came forth to inform the world that they are in fact descendants of the Martians who lived there 3000 years ago and had passed onto them the property of the planet.
Initially they wanted legal guarantees that NASA will stop all operations on Mars and not make any data public, which, I’m sure you see, was a tiny bit of a problem for science at large and the men and women in particular that had worked on the mission, as well as the tons of money paid for it.
However, Yemeni officials graciously stepped in and politely told them they would be imprisoned if they continued with this hair-brained scam.
Lo and behold, ancient duties quickly vanished from their minds and they backed off. … Partially. Because although they ceased their actions against NASA, they still continued to capitalize from the media coverage by starting to sell plots of land on Mars in 1998 for 2 $ a square meter.
3. The Moon Mogul
The three Yemeni are not, however, the first (and surely not the last) to find people naive enough to buy property that is not theirs to sell in the first place and also happens to be not on Earth.
In fact, the honor of most proficient and long lasting entrepreneur in this, granted, niche domain must probably go to Dennis Hope, an American who started selling lunar property in the 1980s and has been doing so ever since, via his company the Lunar Embassy Commission.
This guy didn’t even give any explanations as to how he owns the Moon. He just set up the business and started selling 1 acre plots.
He claims to have been so successful that he has sold 2.5 million plots so far. At 20$ per plot, that’s a pretty hefty sum. Then again, he also claims that, discreetly, with the help of their aides, US presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were also his customers.
One can only wait and see what Dennis Hope will claim next. Feel free to let your imagination run wild until then.
4. Rules and Regulations
Clearly the dangerous realm of outer space is no place to skirt on order and proper ways of doing things. A sentiment echoed by Gregory W. Nemitz when he issued NASA a parking ticket as they had dared park their probe the NEAR Shoemaker on an asteroid called 433 Eros in 2001.
Nemitz is, according to him, the owner of 433 Eros, a property which he registered in 2000, before the NASA landing and which also happens to conveniently contain platinum in quantities around the Quintilian dollar range.
When NASA refused to pay, Nemitz filed a lawsuit which was dismissed at the US Court of Appeals effectively denying Nemitz any future legal action.
Still, be mindful of where you park your space vehicle, mkay?
5. Lethal risks, anyone?
Now here’s the most disturbing scam on the list. Because if the promoters actually go through with it, it will most definitely result in the loss of life of those who went along with it as protagonists.
I’m referring to the much publicized Mars One initiative from the eponymous (self declared) non-profit organization which intends to put four humans on Mars by in 2022, with a permanent human colony established in 2027.
The many many many technical, ethical and financial issues at the core of this initiative have been pointed out, detailed and argued by practically everybody in the aerospace industry, and are too long to describe here in full.
Suffice to say that the initial team of humans has been estimated to die in 68 days of hypoxia, in the most optimistic of scenarios.
Also, there’s a few blatant “hints” that it’s a scam: the colonists are given a one-way ticket to Mars (they have been told that transportation back to Earth, even in case of emergencies, would not be available); the colonists are not selected from trained professionals, but rather from the entire of Earth’s population, based on their voluntary application; there would be a reality-like show to determine which of the (sadly, many) applicants will be selected to actually go to Mars; and finally, they are required to pay an “administrative” fee for the privilege of being permanent residents on a completely barren planet, without the proper technology at hand and no means of return.
Oooops, I slipped up in my sales pitch right at the end. Guess I shouldn’t go into scamming people.