Dear Mr. Berko:

Last May, the Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. This private, billion-dollar-plus investment was financed by PayPal founder Elon Musk and other investors and should be very profitable in a couple of years. I would like to invest in this or similar space projects, and I wrote Mr. Musk over a year ago telling him of my interest but did not receive a reply. Can you help me make an investment with Mr. Musk or another group that is working on space exploration? I would like to invest about $250,000, which I know isn’t much, but I think there are a lot of investors like me who can invest that amount and more for a chance to make big returns in this area. Can you give me any help with Mr. Musk or provide me the names of some of companies that are in the space exploration business? I would appreciate your help and references.
B.R., San Antonio


Dear B.R.:

There are numerous dozens of private and public companies involved in space exploration, and some might want your money. However, from an investment standpoint, I know nothing about their finances, their probity or their products. Certainly there are a few Ferengi who would dearly like to separate you and others from most of your investible funds. Musk is CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), probably the most well-known private company in this space race. But big deal and ho-hum, its rocket got off the launching pad. So did rockets from China, North Korea, Pakistan and India. The $64 question is, how does this launch make money for SpaceX, considering its mission is to deliver supplies and crew members to the International Space Station for free? Go figure! Sierra Nevada Corp., Starchaser Industries, ARCA, Bigelow Aerospace, Orbital Science, Interorbital Systems, XCORP Aerospace and Blue Origins (founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon) are a few prominent names, some of whom might welcome your investment. Locate their address via the Internet and post letters expressing your interest. If you’re seeking a quick return on your money, the best you can hope for is a return of the launch vehicle. There’s no money to be made in space exploration (unless it’s financed by Congress), because there’s little out there we can bring back that has commercial value. And if Google’s Larry Page or Microsoft’s Charles Simonyi or Ross Perot Jr. finds gold or God on an asteroid, it’s going to cost him more to bring it back than to find it. Under NASA, our space exploration process developed some new materials, medical techniques and design parameters that are commercially profitable but on a minuscule scale. There are no significant profit opportunities in space exploration today, and the research costs are prohibitive. The Falcon 9 launch cost more than $1 billion, a lot of money to spend hoping to find a bridge to the knowledge of the universe.

Musk, Bezos and other bored billionaires are traveling in the wrong direction. Rather than wasting billions hoping to find life among the stars (Hollywood is closer), they should be spending billions exploring LIFE ON THE OCEAN FLOORS. On one square mile of ocean floor, 12,000 feet below sea level, exists a complex, alien world of life, largely unknown to science. There are billions of micro-organisms, bacteria, microscopic vertebrae and life forms, functioning in the most extreme environments that have never been cataloged -- a black hole on Earth waiting to be entered. We live a few miles above on our planet’s surface and ponder puppy dogs, butterflies, honeybees and kangaroos. Our thinking is parochial and confining. But there are, by orders of magnitude, more life forms on an acre of ocean floor than all the different life forms on the entire surface of Earth. The real bridge to the knowledge of life is down below, among the teeming, evolving and non-evolving organisms. This is where the exciting scientific discoveries and commercial profits will be made -- not blasting multibillion-dollar rockets to outer space.