25 May 1997
Media - Other (None)
Nasa to offer rooms with a view in orbiting hotel
Welcome to the ultimate penthouse suite: a hotel orbiting Earth. Nasa, the American space agency, is sponsoring a project to build a space station for holidaymakers by 2012.

A firm of architects that specialises in hotels is drawing up designs.
Wimberley Allison Tong & Goo, an American architectural practice based in Honolulu, Hawaii, envisions the hotel accommodating 100 people as it orbits Earth. Passengers will be ferried to and from it by the next generation of space shuttles.

At present it costs about 5m to buy a ticket into space: two Japanese businessmen paid that amount to join a Russian space trip last year *. But the project's backers believe it prices will drop dramatically with the advent of new spacecraft.

They estimate it will cost less than 10,000 per head to check into the space hotel for three days of out-of-this-world views and the chance to experience weightlessness.

Buzz Aldrin, the former astronaut and second man to step on the moon,
believes the opportunity to book a long weekend in a low-earth orbit would prove hugely popular. He is planning a lottery scheme that would reduce the cost of space travel for winners to a mere 50.

"The view from space is like having a globe on your desk," he said. "It's a broadening experience after looking at parts of the Earth such as the Mediterranean or bits of America only on maps and then to see them for real."

A viewing deck designed as a glass bubble will have panels providing
computer-aided images to help guests identify which part of the Earth they are looking at. The panels will also show relevant information such as weather conditions.

Guests will be served food grown hydroponically on board and prevent their muscles atrophying ** by playing ball games in zero gravity.

They will also get a chance to dock alongside and pay a visit to the planned international space station, which should be orbiting Earth by then. But with nowhere else to go, the only other day trips available would be spacewalks.

The plan envisages the hotel being divided between areas of zero and artificial gravity. This will allow guests to experience floating in space but also provide a refuge for the one out of two passengers expected to suffer from space sickness ***. An area with artificial gravity will also help guests have a shower.

Howard Wolff, vice-president of the architects, said the project had
presented him with a completely different set of problems in comparison to his normal work designing holiday resorts. "It's like developing new, vast and wonderful frontier," he said. "But the point will be to strike a balance between creating an out-of-this world experience and providing some creature comforts."

Shimizu, a Japanese construction company, revealed last winter **** its plans to launch a hotel in space by 2020. But the RIBA Journal, the British architectural magazine, which publishes details of the American project tomorrow, argues that by including an architect in its team from the start, this particular version will have an advantage.

"The hotel is part theme park, part California health spa," said Louise Rogers, the magazine's deputy editor. "The plan takes into account the needs of paying guests rather than well-trained astronauts."

What makes the project feasible is the possibility of reusing spent external fuel tanks from former shuttle flights. Currently, these are burnt up when the spacecraft enters the Earth's atmosphere. But, the designers say, if they were left in space instead, they could be used as components in building the outer ring of a space hotel.

Nasa's interest in the project is not merely altruistic. The space agency believes getting holidaymakers into space will increase public support for government funding of costly deep space exploration.
Source: Edward Welsh, Sunday Times (UK)

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25 May 1997
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