MOUNTAIN VIEW -- It's an idea so brain-busting and Jetsonian that it seems it could only exist in a science fiction novel.

But even space hotels and pizza delivery on the moon aren't too far out for the Bay Area.

PayPal, the Internet payment company owned by eBay (EBAY), is leading a team of space architects and researchers to create an Internet payments system for transactions in outer space. The company joins a rapidly growing coalition of Silicon Valley businesses and entrepreneurs who are investing in space tourism, a wide-open frontier for new forms of travel, sightseeing and gravity-free adventures.

PayPal is to announce the initiative, called PayPal Galactic, on Thursday at the SETI Institute, a nonprofit research center in Mountain View. The effort is bringing together scientists and space industry leaders from SETI and Los-Angeles based nonprofit Space Tourism Society, and legendary astronaut-turned-author Buzz Aldrin to draft plans for the commercialization of space. Group members say the coming decades will bring massive space development, including orbiting hotels, restaurants and cafes, extreme sports on the moon and weeklong stays in a luxury space station -- and much of this extraterrestrial infrastructure is already designed and funded.


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"This is not total fantasy at this point," said Anuj Nayar, senior director of communications and social media at PayPal, which is funding the effort. "In five to 10 years people are going to be out there and needing these services."

Space will become a hot tourism destination, Nayar said, and travelers will need a way to pay for food, drinks and services while vacationing on Mars or staying in a space hotel. This new travel frontier also needs a system for payments that works high above Earth's wire networks -- and gravity. Space tourists will want to pay the photographer taking family pictures on the space ship, order a pizza or buy a souvenir moon rock.

"The one thing that's very clear is you're not going to be paying for it with cash," Nayar said.

Today, companies in Russia and Las Vegas are designing space hotels that are expected to be in orbit in about three years. John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society and a longtime space architect, says he's cooking up a design for a superyacht that would be constructed in space and orbit the Earth -- similar to a cruise ship for space. Space tourism company Virgin Galactic has said it will stage its first flight on Christmas this year with celebrity passengers who are expected to include Brad Pitt and Justin Bieber.

Tech leaders such as Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google (GOOG), Elon Musk of Tesla, and Charles Simonyi and Paul Allen of Microsoft are heavily investing in space tourism enterprises and some have already made their own private expeditions to the far reaches of the universe.

"That culture of mega-wealth and corporate prestige gets it. The money isn't an issue," Spencer said. "Some of these guys are very technical-savvy, very politically savvy, very wealthy, and they're doing it because they want to."

Space tourism will remain a pastime for the ultra-wealthy for many years, Spencer said. The Virgin Galactic flight reportedly required a $250,000 deposit, and the most recent space tourist, Canadian Guy Laliberte, reportedly spent about $40 million for a two-week trip. There's also a whole range of risks and health concerns -- many still unknown -- with space travel that don't come with a family outing to Disneyland.

And serious challenges such as space law -- an uncertain legal area still in its infancy -- concerns about pollution and the lack of government regulations could slow the commercialization of space, said Jill Tarter, of the SETI Institute. But space tourism enthusiasts hope that more investments from companies like PayPal and interest from Silicon Valley celebrities will help grow the industry and open it up to more people to experience the wonders of space.

"It's a genuine life-changing experience," Spencer said. "Most people who have gone to space say they would go back tomorrow if they could."

Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.