Google, Virgin planning to colonize Mars. Wait, what's today's date?

Google has slew of April Fools' tricks up its sleeve this year

Google and Virgin are planning to colonize Mars. April Fools!

Turns out Larry Page's and Sergey Brin's project to build a moon rocket  was just the first step in Google's plans to spread its tentacles throughout the entire solar system.

Google announced Tuesday that it is teaming up with Virgin's Richard Branson on "Virgle," which will select a group of humans to colonize Mars by the year 2014.

"Earth has issues, and it's time humanity got started on a Plan B," Google states on its Web page. "So, starting in 2014, Virgin  founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of users on one of the grandest adventures in human history: Project Virgle, the first permanent human colony on Mars."

Unfortunately for Googlers yearning to rid themselves of the shackles of Earth's atmosphere, Page, Brin and Branson picked April Fools' Day to make their announcement. So it's probably a joke (though we wouldn't put anything past Google).

The company did, however, start a real contest last year that will give cash prizes to teams that can land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon. And Google and Virgin are taking the step of having curious humans fill out application forms to join project Virgle. (Just go to the Google home page and follow the links).

Googlers throughout Earth are busy on this April Fools Day. Google in Australia launched gDay, which lets users search what the Web will look like as much as 24 hours in the future.

Google also jokingly launched a new Gmail service called "custom time," which lets you backdate e-mails in case you forget an important event like grandma's birthday.

Google even added a "scratch and sniff" feature to its book search tool as part of today's April Fools festivities. And if you log on to the YouTube home page and click on any of the "featured videos," you'll be promptly taken to a video of Rick Astley singing cheesy '80s song "Never Gonna Give You Up." Another Google April Fools project supposedly seeks to "organize all of human ignorance."  

Check out this blog for a list of Google April Fools hoaxes launched today.

Google's April Fools hoaxes go back to the year 2000, when it announced MentalPlex, a "search technology that supposedly read the user's mind to determine what the user wanted to search for," according to Wikipedia. The 2006 hoax was a parody of online dating called Google Romance. Last year Google offered a paper-based e-mail service.

Back to Virgle: Click on the Google home page Tuesday and you'll notice this text: "A Cool World: Enjoy a rosier future as a Virgle Pioneer."

Click there and you'll be taken to a page describing Virgle, complete with FAQs and a plan for making Mars the first "open source planet."

There's a 15-item multiple-choice questionnaire for people interested in joining Virgle. Google and Virgin are looking for "world-class experts" in the disciplines of physics, medicine and first aid, engineering, and, of course, Guitar Hero II. 

The next step for Mars wannabes is to submit a 30-second YouTube video describing why they should be chosen. As of 10 a.m. EST this morning, the only two videos posted were by Branson, and Page and Brin.

"You'll be achieving something mankind has never achieved before," Branson says, calling Virgle perhaps the most exciting project he has ever worked on. "Submit your 30-second video and then we'll get in touch. We look forward to meeting up with you."

"This is the biggest endeavor we have ever undertaken at Google and at Virgin," Brin says. "We're going to select the very first human settlers on mars."

Virgle might be an opportunity for Google co-founder Page to take full control of Google's Earth operations, judging by the following statement: "Actually Sergey, I was thinking you could go one way and I could stay here."

Brin's response: "Maybe we'll save you for the Jupiter trip."

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