13 August 1997
Media - Other (None)
Shuttling off to the Universe
Serious people in the aerospace and travel industry are taking the idea of space tourism seriously.

Pundits predict that the first space tourists could be in orbit by 2005. Tourists will travel by "space plane" to "space hotels" 320 to 480 kilometers above Earth.

NASA's Space Shuttle is capable of flying 60 to 70 passengers on each flight. In fact this was envisaged by Rockwell engineers in the design of the Shuttle 25 years ago.

There seems to be plenty of interest from armchair astronauts. More than 40 per cent of Americans yearn for an "out of this world" vacation according to the 1997 Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown/Yankelowitch Partners National Leisure Travel Monitor, based on in-depth interviews with 1,500 US households.

Forty-two per cent of those surveyed say they are interested in a space cruise that would offer amenities similar to an ocean-going cruise ship while 34 per cent specifically say they would be
interested in a two-week vacation aboard the Space Shuttle and be willing to spend (on average) $10,800 (amounts in U.S. dollars) for the trip.

Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine recently reported similar surveys in Canada, Japan, Germany and the United States that found "an enormous unsatisfied desire among the general public to travel in space."

"Space travel is about 10 to 15 years away if NASA and the private sector develop the necessary research and technology," says George Diller, NASA spokesman at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

"I think you'll see commercial initiatives, but it'll be pricy. Ten thousand dollars won't get you to the launch pad. You'd probably be looking at something closer to $50,000 for a trip lasting an hour, allowing the passenger to experience weightlessness for about 15 minutes."

For space flights alone, Bob Citron, a former aerospace executive and director of the Foundation for the Future in Bellevue, Wash. (an organization dedicated to scholarly research on life during the next millenium), speculates that $3-billion to $5-billion would be needed to buy 24 to 45 space space tourist vehicles, four or five launch sites and staffing for 1000 to 2000 flights a year with ticket prices of up to $50,000.

"A Space Shuttle vacation is certainly real in terms of consumer interest", says Dennis Marzella, senior vice-president of Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown.

"The technology is there, but it needs to be adapted to accommodate tourists - comfortable seats and big windows."

Patrick Collins of the University of Tokyo and the Japanese Rocket Society, speaking at the International Symposium on Space Tourism in Bremen, Germany, last March, estimates the development of a reusable, vertical takeoff and landing rocket for passengers would cost $10 billion and take six to seven years.

"We need a lot of windows and we need bars, and the Japanese need a karaoke bar," Collins says. "A gym with padded walls for zero-gravity sports would be a really fun place."

Space plane designs may draw on the experience of " Hotol" a pilot project of British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce a decade ago.

Hotol was to have been a 50-to-60-passenger plane that would take off from conventional airports. After accelerating through Mach 5 to 24,000 metres, the plane would leave the atmosphere, continue to accelerate and become a satellite itself after reaching 76,000 metres - about four times the cruising altitude of Concorde - and an orbital velocity of Mach 25 to 30.

Maximum flying time, ground-to-ground, to anywhere in the world would be about 70 minutes. Unlike the Space Shuttle, such a space plane would need no external fuel tanks and would re-enter the atmosphere and land under its own power. A space plane would be ideal for picking up and delivering tourists to a space resort en route.

Space Islands Project has an intriguing scenario for a space resort hotel based on a "20-year-old Rockwell idea" for joining up a dozen or so of the Space Shuttle's empty external fuel tanks into a wheel-shaped space station.

Each external tank - measuring 8.5 metres in diameter and 47 metres long (a tad shorter than a 747 fuselage) and with walls four times thicker than those of the Mir space station - would be divided into three decks. The space station could accommodate 300 people in "cruise-ship" conditions."

"The external tanks would be joined up end to end in the form of a ring with two more tanks joined up passing through the centre like an axle through a wheel, like the orbiting Hilton in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey," says Gene Meyers, director of Space Islands Project, a loosely knit group of engineers, educators and architects, in West Covina, Calif.

"The station would take about an hour and a half to make a complete orbit of the Earth, but the ring itself would be spinning like a roulette wheel at about one revolution a minute thus developing artificial gravity. People would live in the outer ring where they would experience about half of normal gravity - they'd just be half their normal weight - so they could use bathroom facilities and suchlike at pretty well normal conditions. The central column section would be zero gravity. This could be the entertainment and recreation centre, which guests could visit for an hour or so at a time. You'd have windows in the central column to view the Earth.

"There are lots of entertainment possibilities at zero gravity," Meyers continues. "Astronauts have found that blood that is normally drawn down to your legs is sort of released and drifts upward. Astronauts' legs become thinner, their chests expand by two to three inches, their faces fill out and wrinkles disappear. Shots of men in their 40s before launch and an hour after launch look like father and son. Shannon Lucid, a 53-year-old American astronaut in the Russian space station last years, said she looked 20 years younger in space."

Meyers and his group are looking to corporate sponsorship to meet the $10 billion to $15 billion cost of building the first space station. "You'd need about 16 of these external tanks."

"If we can get companies like Coca-Cola and General Motors to sponsor them for $500-million each, you'd cover big chunks of your costs for the first station; the second station would cost roughly half as much, and the third and fourth stations would be about 10 to 15 per cent less.

"Space Islands Project" is privately funded right now. We've budgeted $20 million for this first push to bring in some of the larger sponsors. The payback for them will be enormous.

"Coca-Cola, for example, spends $8 billion a year on marketing. So we've suggested that if they were to pay the cost of a shuttle launch - $400 million to $500 million - they could have the external tank painted white with their logo splashed all over it. This would give them two to three years of broad international exposure.

"We're talking to Carnival Cruises, Hilton Hotels, Universal Studios, Radisson Hotels and Disney to support the project."

Good luck, guys - but we think you need to get your costs down by 90% or more! - SFJ
Source: Roger Collis, Globe and Mail (Canada)

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13 August 1997
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