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Google, Richard Branson pull a fast one to Mars

The Internet search giant's dream-like announcement comes crashing like a pinpricked balloon, reports Narayanan Madhavan.
Hindustan Times | By Narayanan Madhavan, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 02, 2008 01:13 AM IST

Internet search giant Google made a dream-like announcement on Tuesday that it had tied up with British billionaire Richard Branson to launch a colonising mission to Mars for an environmentally sound future — but the idea came crashing like a pinpricked balloon.

Alas, Project Virgle, the heady cocktail of the red planet and green concerns offered up by the founders of Google and Virgin Air’s bearded veteran who loves balloon rides was an All Fool’s Day joke – or so much of hot air.

The California firm whose engineers seem to know how to mix collegiate humour with some serious computer code detailed their mission in the official Google blog, invited “pioneers” and even offered a spoofy “open source planet” plan that mixed the principles of free ware with the angst of climate change. The announcement was profound.

“Earth has issues, and it’s time humanity got started on a Plan B. So, starting 2014, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of users on one of the grandest adventures in human history: Project Virgle, the first permanent human colony on Mars.”

A fake press release matched the hype, drawing out an imaginary quote from Branson. It said: “Some people are calling Virgle an ‘interplanetary Noah’s Ark,’” said Virgin Group President and Founder Sir Richard Branson, who conceived the new venture.

I'm one of them. It's a potentially remarkable business, but more than that, it's a glorious adventure. For me, Virgle evokes the spirit of explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo, who set sail looking for the New World. I do hope we'll be a bit more efficient about actually finding it, though."

Last year, the Stanford-educated Google founders had fooled audiences by conjuring up a plan to offer cheap Internet services linked to sewage lines. This year, their trickery rose from the gutters to outer space, as their pitch mimicked a possible speech by green politician Al Gore.

"For thousand years, the human race has spread out across the Earth, scaling mountains and plying the oceans, planting crops and building highways, raising skyscrapers and atmospheric CO2 levels, and observing, with tremendous and unflagging enthusiasm, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply across our world's every last nook, cranny and subdivision," it said.

After talking of a "Mission control community" and a "100-year plan" for a Mars settlement, and even lining up an online test for space pioneers, the last bit in Google's Frequently Asked Questions section gave the game away after straightfaced queries like, "Can Mars be terraformed?"

Said the punchline: "Oh, all right. Fine. April Fool's. Ha, ha, ha. It isn't real. There. Are you happy? Does it please you to drag us out of our lovely little fantasy world, to crush all our hopes and dreams? Is that really what you need to hear? Fine, you've heard it. Virgle isn't real. Yet."

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