What do you do if you’re a physicist who is also a billionaire Russian capitalist? You go looking for life in outer space, of course. Yuri Milner’s taste for pioneering began as a physics graduate, where he began selling DOS computers on street corners to Soviets who wanted an electronic peek at the free world. His dad did not approve of his “grey market” dealings, so he was sent off to the Wharton School to get his MBA.
The son of a business man and a prestigious doctor, Yuri comes from a successful family and his net worth is now estimated at $1.8 billion according to Celebrity Net Worth. He knew the art of the deal and in 2009 sunk 200 million dollars into Facebook, which paid off handsomely. He then partnered with Goldman Sachs to invest another $100 million followed by another $500 million to become a powerhouse shareholder in Facebook right when everyone and his brother was leaving MySpace to connect with Facebook.
Yuri Milner wisely invested in many of the other most successful social media companies including Twitter and Groupon, through this Digital Sky Technology Group, now split off into Mail.Ru, Russia’s most popular e-mail service, and DST Global. Just about everything he has touched turned to gold, and this emboldened him to keep reaching for new heights. He has been branded a “titan” by business magazines and is a force to be reckoned with in Silicon Valley.
Yuri Milner also supports science research through philanthropy, awarding $3 million in Fundamental Physics Breakthrough prizes to promising scientists. Far from an obscure “nerd award” this prize ceremony has been hosted by celebrities like Seth MacFarlane, and presented by Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” This prize ceremony is more like a red carpet event than a science fair, and the winners garner cash in addition to a prestigious addition to their resume.
Though making his wealth through investing, not through academia or scientific discovery, the world of outer space and science are still near to his heart. Yuri feels that space exploration is his destiny, as he was named after Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 was the first person to fly in space the year Milner was born.
His rise to power and wealth through savvy tech investing was astronomical, so perhaps he is looking to the stars to see what else is out there to conquer? He wants to send a space probe to Alpha Centauri, which is 25 trillion miles away. He explained his quest in Time Magazine. Milner knows project Breakthrough Listen will take time and likens it to days gone by when it took centuries to build a cathedral.
Yuri Milner has enough clout to get some of the best names in the world of physics behind his project, Breakthrough Listen, including consulting with with Stephen Hawking, according to The New York Times. He is opening his project to well known science names and amateurs like SETI enthusiasts, who have been waiting with their screens open via SETI@home hoping for a sign that will also be included. Miler insists that’s “not crazy”.
His money is going for equipment use of the Green Bay Telescope in West Virginia and The Parkes telescope in Australia. Another big portion of the funds will be spent on technology equipment at the University of California at Berkley Lab in order to process any information gathered through space. He sees space as the “next frontier” and finds it a great adventure. He is willing to wait ten years to see if his project makes a connection, and has said if his venture fails he’ll just put in more cash to make it happen.
What’s important about Breakthrough Listen is that it’s the largest amount of money ever dedicated to finding out if we really are alone in the universe. The worldwide success of films like “Contact” and “Close Encounters of a Third Kind”, and even “ET, The Extraterrestrial”, show that the public has an insatiable appetite for aliens and the possibility of life on other planets. There is extra incentive for participants to take part in the project–a reward of $1 million for anyone able to find definitive evidence of aliens. Milner knew from his work in IT investments that if you want something done, you need to offer cold hard cash as part of the draw.
Milner explained in an interview posted on Wire.com, comically titled, “Rich Dude Yuri Milner Wants 100-Million-MPH, Laser-Powered Satellites. Is That Too Much to Ask?”, that it may take 20 to 30 years to complete the project, and may cost $5 to $10 billion. Yuri is getting other mega rich tycoons like Mark Zuckerberg in on the project. There is going to be plenty of room for additional investors as launching thousands of Star Chips to Alpha Centauri isn’t cheap. Each of these chips, which must weigh less than a gram, will need to include a camera, a thruster, and a laser to communicate back to home base, where the information will be recorded and analyzed.
During the first space race in the last century, Russia and the US were at odds to see who would get there first, both making great strides and accomplishments. Now, the best scientists and laboratories in the world are at the disposal of this Russian billionaire who wholeheartedly believes that we need to take this next step in space exploration, and is certainly putting his money where his mouth is.
Will some lucky winner walk away with the 1 million bucks and reward mankind with an interview with an alien life form? Or will the project fizzle out and fail like the moon program, that had everyone on the edge of their seats in 1969? Yuri Milner believes in donating money for social change, but he also sees that to move forward as a society it’s imperative to progress further with scientific discovery. If Yuri Milner’s future success can be predicted by his past luck, Barbara Walters might be having a sit down interview with an extraterrestrial any day now.