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Branson's Mars Mission: Prankster Or Pathfinder?

Richard Branson
AP
Richard Branson

Is he or isn't he, that is the question. I'm talking about Sir Richard Branson and his lofty (extraterrestrial?) goal of a manned mission to Mars, in partnership with Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Google .

Needless to say, the news captured a lot of attention--and the imagination -- of so many who read those headlines. But then, as quickly as the news broke, reporters, including ourown Jane Wells, broke the news that all this was an April Fools hoax, bursting the Mars bubble shortly after that one small step onto the internet.

Or was it? I sat down with the man himself here at the CTIA wireless conference in Las Vegas, and in my exclusive interview with the Virgin empire builder covering all kinds of topics, I had to ask about the prank. No prank, he assured me. It's a hoax, I said. It's not, he retorted. (I'm posting the entire interview here, so judge for yourself!)

So I played along, and pressed him on the details. When? Hopefully by 2020, if not sooner, but definitely before he dies. How much capital will he commit? He hemmed, hawed, paused, and then said that he and the Google guys would pony up $15 billion toward the project.

All with a straight face. And all with the simmering passion of a guy who dreams big and has the bank account to back up those dreams.

No one is really quite sure what to make of any of this. If it's a hoax, he played it brilliantly. If it's not, then Branson's dreams of intergalactic exploration are being met with the same kind of skepticism that probably confronted Magellan and Columbus.

Maybe the funniest thing of all: these may be the outlandish wishes, hopes and dreams of an eccentric billionaire, but few people doubt that he'd be capable of undertaking such an initiative if he truly wanted to. That speaks volumes about Branson the explorer, Branson the dreamer, and best of all, maybe Branson the prankster.

Watch the video and tell me your thoughts. Is Branson for real? Or is it all just a big joke? Take the poll. You decide.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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