This morning, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin put out a press release. Here’s how it begins:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. and LONDON, England (April 1st, 2008) – Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Virgin Group today announced the launch of Virgle Inc., a jointly owned and operated venture dedicated to the establishment of a human settlement on Mars.

“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.”

The Virgle 100 Year Plan’s milestones will include Virgle Pioneer selection (2008-2010), the first manned journey to Mars (2016), a Virgle Inc. initial public offering to capitalize on the first manned journey to Mars (2016), the founding of the first permanent Martian municipality, Virgle City (2050), and the achievement of a truly self-sustaining Martian civilization with a population exceeding 100,000 (2108).

I’d be a bit nervous on a Google spacecraft. I don’t want to fly in a ship with any “I’m feeling lucky” buttons.

Privatizing the quest for the heavens reminds me of a quote from a well-known 20th century leader:

“Where self-interest is suppressed, it is replaced by a burdensome system of bureaucratic control that dries up the wellspring of initiative and creativity.”

– Pope John Paul II

You know what else requires a wellspring of initiative and creativity? Any good April Fools Day prank.

Update: Google also today announced the launch of “GMail Custom Time” — a service allowing gmail account users to send email from the past. Forget to email that report to your boss last week? No problem!

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