NASA.gov needs a makeover

Have you been keeping up with the Mars Lander like I have? Millions of Internet users around the world are flooding the NASA.

Have you been keeping up with the Mars Lander like I have? Millions of Internet users around the world are flooding the NASA.gov site, wondering just what the Martian polar landscape looks like. Mars, at least on the Internet, is a bona-fide hit.

But NASA itself is in trouble. The agency has grand plans to further the human exploration of space, yet they keep getting stymied by a shortsighted congress. It's hard to achieve even modest goals in the political mudfest that passes for government at the end of the 20th century.

But I've got the perfect solution. NASA needs to go from Pleistocene government agency to Internet dotcom. Space exploration is clearly one of the biggest hits on the Internet, and NASA is perfectly poised to make a mint.

Lets start with banner ads. Head over to jpl.nasa.gov and browse the site. Nary a banner ad to be found. Just think of the advertisers that would kill to be associated with the Pathfinder Martian Lander: Nissan could advertise their Pathfinder car, Magellan their GPS products; I'll bet even the makers of Moon Pies would find the relationship profitable. At 10 cents a page view, NASA could conceivably pay for much of this mission on page views alone.

But the Internet-revenue options don't stop there. What about sponsorship? Internet companies, flush with cash, are buying up real estate everywhere. If Ask Jeeves can put itself on Evander Holyfield's butt, I'll bet MySimon would kill for sponsoring the Pathfinder Lander. Who could possibly mind if it were called the NASA/MySimon Pathfinder mission? They'd be the first Internet ad on another planet. That's worth more than a Super Bowl ad right there.

And the e-commerce opportunities are endless too. After gazing longingly at the images from the Polar Regions of Mars (those could be sponsored by Yahoo -- they've got an 'out-of-this-world' valuation anyway), who could pass up a T-shirt saying "Pathfinder went to Mars and all I got was this dumb shirt." I'll bet a robotic, talking Pathfinder Lander toy would have been *the* toy of this Christmas.

The Internet revenue alternatives available to NASA could have easily paid for the Pathfinder mission. They might even have turned (gasp) a profit.

But NASA has loftier goals than just Martian Landers. The agency wants to send a manned mission to the Red Planet in the next few years. The price tag for that is a staggering $40 billion dollars. Well, it's staggering to our "leaders" in Washington. To the VC community, that's just thinking big.

So here's my plan for NASA to get to Mars in five years. First, create a business plan with outrageous expectations, and float it by a few VCs in The Valley. Based on existing traffic numbers, and projected Internet growth, it's obvious that Nasa.Com is worth a multi-billion dollar IPO (after they secure the URL from suck.org).

That will generate enough money to get started. Now since it'll take about two years to get to Mars and two years to return, there's a tremendous potential to capture the imagination and eyeballs of the world. But NASA will need to make a few cosmetic changes to their mission profile.

First, forget about stodgy boring old astronauts. For this to work, they'll have to fill the space ship with young, single, alluring 20-somethings. And the name. Instead of a typical, boring NASA name like "Mars Voyage" they'll need something catchier -- perhaps "Real Out-Of-This-World." Now imagine the potential! Twenty single young people stuck in a tin can for two years each way, with simmering hormones and bubbling desires. Think Jenny-Cam times a billion! Add in the very real danger factor, and NASA will have a major hit on their hands.

If Viacom's worth 25 billion or so, basically because of MTV's "Real World" series, clearly NASA could be worth a lot more. With the help of a few well-placed venture capitalists, NASA could easily raise the money to go to Mars.

And the revenue opportunities don't stop there. We're building a space station with the Russians. Imagine the entertainment potential there! All we need to do is get Donald Trump to put his name on the space station for a measly $500 million or so, and we'd be on our way. Send up a few supermodels, and NASA would have another long-running super-popular Internet series on its hands.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Exploration and colonization of space is absolutely essential to the human race. But letting our government dictate the pace and provide the funding simply isn't working. Only if Nasa.gov decides to become Nasa.com will we ever get off this stinkin' planet. So NASA, if you're listening, give me a call. I know a couple of VCs, and I'll bet we could have you IPO-ing in 6 months. And if it works, can I go to Mars with the raging 20-year-olds?