Oct 10 2014

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And now, a word from our sponsor

Here’s an email interview I conducted with Chris, owner of MarsRegistry.com.

I’ve always said that if I’m offered 40 acres and a mule to settle on Mars, I’m gone — I’ll text you when I get there. When I discovered MarsRegistry.com, I was immediately interested in bringing them on board as a sponsor for NewSpaceRaces. I mean, here was my 40 acres (er…10 sq km so 2471 acres!!). Now all I need to do is find a site that sells me a donkey fit for Mars (or a quad or dune buggy or what have you), and I’m set!!

Full disclosure: I intend to buy my own MarRegistry land parcels once I get a few more umpiring gigs under my belt this fall.

Interview follows:

1) What’s your background?

I grew up in Ohio in the 1980’s and 90’s, got married in ’98 and joined the Navy in ’99. I served a six year enlistment, five of them aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, working mostly night shifts as a radar technician/janitor. After the Navy my family and I settled in Indiana, and I currently work in the electronics field for the government.


2) When did your interest in Mars develop?

When I was a young kid I loved to read about astronomy. And when I was a nerdy teenager I read science fiction voraciously, including classics like Burroughs’ Barsoom series, Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, and Wells’ War of the Worlds; I also enjoyed some newer stuff (new at the time anyway) like Ben Bova’s Mars, and Pohl’s Mining the Oort. Gradually I lost interest in science fiction and turned to history. While I continued to find astronomy interesting, I pursued other interests and mostly forgot about Mars for some years.

Oddly enough, my interest did not see much of a resurgence until I began work on the Mars Registry. In the course of researching Mars and compiling data for the company to use, I realized more than ever that Mars is more than some mostly featureless, boulder-strewn plain, but an actual detailed world with a wide variety of land features and stark differences from one area of the planet to another.

For many people this may seem obvious, but it’s one thing to know a fact generally but quite another to actually see it case by case, in great detail. For instance, I had not known that the Martian sunset is blue, or that Mars has clouds and snow and even warm weather (at one’s feet). Or that Mars’ moon Phobos orbits so quickly that it appears to rise in the west and set in the east and it orbits Mars so closely that it appears to grow larger as it flies across the sky, and you can’t even see it in the far north. The more I learn about Mars, the more fascinating it becomes.

2a) Are you a member of any Mars or Space advocacy associations?

No to both. By nature I’m not much of a joiner, but as my interest in the development of Mars has grown more serious, I think I’ll have to reconsider this reluctance.


3) How long has the Mars Registry been in existence?

Back in early 2012 a friend was telling me about a documentary he saw about some lunatic who sold property on the moon. He’d made 3 million dollars, my friend exclaimed. I said something like, “Who cares about the moon. I’d rather buy property on Mars.” The conversation turned into a brainstorming session. I remembered this online game that I played at the time called Cybernations. The game had the option to create lunar and Martian colonies using Google Maps. The player could select their own spots. We could use something like that for our customers to choose their own land plots.

We hired a Chinese programmer (he lived near Hong Kong) named “Micheal Jackson”. His rate was very cheap and his resume looked perfect for what we needed. Plus I thought he must be a pretty market-savvy guy to use the name “Micheal Jackson”. We tried to talk to him vocally on Skype, but his English was completely unintelligible and my limited Chinese unintelligible even to myself, so he didn’t understand our Michael Jackson jokes. We IM’ed instead. He was twelve hours ahead of us (or behind; we were never quite sure), and I think he’d sleep next to his computer because it would take him about fifteen minutes to respond to our meetings. His written English was pretty rudimentary. He never wrote my name, but he always called my counterpart “Dear Alan”, like he was writing a letter. The entire project stumbled along for about three months and collapsed $3,000 later. Micheal Jackson was a kind and honorable man, but I will never again work with someone so far away or whose English is so poor. It’s difficult to communicate such abstract ideas even in the best of circumstances.

Eventually we found other programmers (plus I learned to do some programming of my own), and by June of 2013 we were able to make our debut at the Chicago Star Trek Convention. Al set up a camera so that the costumed Trekkers could check out their free pictures online (complete with Mars Registry ad). It was good fun, but business-wise a near-total bust. The organization really didn’t want us to be there, as we had nothing to do with Star Trek, and the people in attendance, while very nice, had little interest in buying Martian land claims. Plus the purchasing process was too cumbersome for in-person sales.

We went back to the drawing board, and the Mars Registry took its current form in September 2013 when we began to advertise on SpaceWeather.com.


4) How many plots of land have you sold?

133. We’ve got a long ways to match that moon guy’s supposed 3 million dollars.


5) Can a customer buy more than one plot of land?

Customers can add one plot at a time to their shopping cart, but there is no way to combine the 10-square-kilometer plots into larger ones, if that’s what you mean.

There are a few people who have purchased contiguous land plots, and even one who bought an entire crater, but these groups of land-claims are composed of individual plots. (And the last one was assembled by Mars Registry staff, namely me, at the customer’s request.)

Otherwise the number of plots that a customer can buy is limited only by the total number of unclaimed plots that are available on Mars and the time it takes to select them one-by-one. (I used to know how many total plots there are, but I have since forgotten. I think it’s something like 1.3 million.)


6) How do your customers pick out their plots of land? I.e., do most pick randomly, or do customers have specific idea of where they’d like to buy?

I can only guess, but it seems to vary quite a bit.

The map that customers use to select their plots is run by Google; it’s zoomable to a considerable extent and the curser displays latitude and longitude. (I wish people could enter a desired lat/lon, but that feature will have to wait for a future mod.)

Some people seem to choose their claims at random while others look for an interesting feature on the map. Craters seem to be a popular choice. A few other customers seem to choose their spots very deliberately, and some have made specific requests for areas that aren’t currently available.


7) On your land purchase map, you can only purchase land in grids that are open for business.

a. To what do the grids relate?

The region grids are based on the quadrangle map of Mars used by the US Geological Survey.

b. Why are some grids open and some not?

The original idea was to have only a few regions open at first and then to gradually add them one-by-one to great public fanfare.

One of our documents includes descriptions of land features that can be found in the vicinity of the customer’s land claim. Early on, I wrote feature descriptions for seven of the Martian regions. In these regions, descriptions are available for a few hundred different total land features, nearly all of them directly from officially named IAU features. We try to give the customers a very customized and accurate description of their land claims.

Because it would have taken many weeks to write descriptions for all of the major land features of the planet, we decided to only open a few regions at a time. We rationalized that this policy would preserve uncluttered spots on the planet that we could open for sale at a later time, and that it could be a useful marketing tool that would thrill our customers beyond imagination (creating something like the frenzied Oklahoma land rushes of the late 1800’s, or so we hoped anyway). We’d open more up more regions as I wrote the descriptions. Since then, we’ve only added the polar region.

c. What is the timeline for grids that are closed to be opened?

Actually in the near future I intend to open them all at once. I’d hate to lose a customer who is disappointed because he can’t buy a claim on Pavonis Mons or some other blocked part of the planet. And the idea of a land rush was probably naive.

It won’t be difficult to create new descriptions for customers as they purchase their claims. And I can still gradually write all of the planet’s descriptions over time without hindering those who want a specific spot.


8) Why do your customers buy land? Gifts, something cool to hang on their wall, etc?

Once again, it varies, I think. I like to think of our customers as generally well-educated folk who dream about humanity’s future in space. The world is becoming a scary place right now, but many of us hope that technology can bring forth a world of plenty where people aren’t fighting for resources and we can settle on other worlds, first in our own solar system and then eventually beyond.

I’m sure that some of our customers take our documents more seriously than others. Some of them might consider our product to be a novelty gift, but I think these are the minority. Others might actually believe that they own the land right now, a belief that I increasingly discourage.

Many people buy land claims as gifts to others. Much to my surprise we had a small surge of sales for Valentine’s Day, most of these from women to their men. Men are oftentimes difficult to buy gifts for (we don’t like to say what we want, and we often buy what we want without saying) but a woman can be pretty sure that her significant other doesn’t already have a Martian land claim.

Perhaps about a third of our land claim packages are given to young children and grand-children, nieces and nephews. The packages are educational and customized, which might interest children who enjoy astronomy. But I suspect that many of these buyers also think, “Why not? It’s a long-shot, but maybe there’s some chance that these kids could actually set foot on Mars to possess their land.”


9) The deeds are filed with the Library of Congress. Does this give them any legality?

The short answer, I’m afraid, is no. We file the land claims with the Library of Congress in order to establish a neutral and universally respected record of when the claims were made.

a. If not, what would it take to legally own land on Mars?

Our medium-term goal is to gain the recognition of our land claims by a private space transport agency that has the ability to reach and colonize Mars, perhaps something like SpaceX or Mars One. I say this is medium term because I believe that technological advances might be around the corner that could bring Mars within profitable human reach in a decade, perhaps even less. We seem to be at the cusp of breakthroughs for several different technologies.

In the longer term, we’d like to gain recognition by the world’s governments. This may come more easily after we gain recognition by private organizations, or it may come when governments actively seek settlers on Mars. They might even offer homestead claims on Mars. With our land claims recorded in the Library of Congress perhaps decades before such homesteading is even possible, we might have a good case for a government to accept our claims over a later counter-claim.


10) What are your competitors?

I don’t know all of them, but there are several. There’s buymars.com and moonestates.com, among others. These don’t seem to give the customer an exclusive or defined parcel of land, nor do they offer much by way of customization. They certainly don’t allow their customers to pick their own claims or offer a publicly visible map.

A more famous competitor, Uwingu, does have an interactive map, but their idea is for customers to name a Martian crater rather than to sell them a claim to the land. For a while Uwingu seemed to suggest that they had official recognition for their names, and I think Mars One has accepted them, but the IAU says “no way”. In that respect Uwingu’s struggle is similar to the Mars Registry’s, although their product is somewhat different. I have a lot of respect for Uwingu and wish them luck, even though they’re a strong competitor.


11) You’ve mentioned that there has been some hostility against Mars Registry. Why?

Occasionally we get some hate mail, fortunately not from our customers. I don’t think these come from organized groups, just offended individuals. They say things like, “You scammers should be put in jail” and “Nice that you’re charging people for a sheet of paper that entitles them to absolutely nothing.”

I can’t say that I blame them. When I first got into this business, I thought of it more as a novelty or gag gift than anything. But very quickly I realized that the customers were taking this seriously and that I should, too. And my respect for Mars was growing the more that I learned about our fourth planet.

At first I thought about quitting the Mars Registry altogether. Instead I have articulated that we are not, in fact, selling the physical land of Mars but a claim to Martian land for which we hope to gain recognition. I believe that our goal is possible to achieve in the long run and that we are serving our customers fairly and honestly. We try to give them a high quality product and good service for their money.

Will some people continue to be offended? Certainly they will. People are quite touchy these days about everything.


12) Do you foresee a growing market in Mars land purchasing?

I compare what we’re doing to some Portuguese company in the year 1500 that might have sold land in America when the New World was barely reachable and almost completely unexplored. The Mars Registry is operating extremely early in the space race. Fortunately I don’t think we have to worry about disrupting any natives on Mars, but we have yet to explore much of the planet at the ground level. There are still hundreds of craters the size of Earth’s Roden Crater that don’t even have names. The market for Martian land-purchases can only grow from this point. The question is, how soon? It may take decades or it may take centuries.


13) Do you foresee branching out to other planets/moons/asteroids for land purchasing in the future?

I haven’t discussed it very much with my associate, but I’ve considered opening up the Moon in the same way that we’ve made claims to Mars available. Personally the Moon doesn’t appeal to me as much as Mars does; it doesn’t seem like quite so much of a world to me. But the Moon does have a certain mystique, a silverly orb lighting up our warm summer nights. It’s possible.

As for asteroids and such, they would be more difficult to map, probably have less marketing appeal for the general public, and are therefore less likely.

I did propose that we make a map of my associate Al’s gigantic head and parcel up tiny squares of it for sale. We could probably fit more than a thousand plots on his nose alone. But at the end of the day, I figured that nobody would want to settle a colony on his ugly mug. He did not agree with me at all, considering the idea worthy of serious consideration.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2014/10/10/and-now-a-word-from-our-sponsor/

1 comment

  1. Chris Kerr

    Thanks for the interview, Don! It was fun!

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