"Secluded location and spectacular views!" a reviewer might write about what
would be the world’s most expensive hotel. "But no flushing toilets." Galactic
Suite, a Barcelona company that was established earlier this year, is the latest
entrant in the space tourism race. And if it can figure out how to get a marble
bathroom into orbit, it will be a candidate for a future Private Preview issue.
In August, the firm announced its intentions to build a three-suite structure
that will circle Earth at an altitude of 300 miles. The company plans to launch
its space hotel in 2012 and to begin selling tickets, at about $4 million apiece
for a three-night stay, next year.
While on board, guests will enjoy unobstructed views of 15
sunrises every day, but what they will do when nature calls remains unclear.
"It’s the bathrooms in zero gravity that are the biggest challenge," Galactic
Suite cofounder Xavier Claramunt conceded to Reuters. "How to accommodate the
more intimate activities of the guests is not easy."
Galactic Suite and the most prominent space hotel company,
Bigelow Aerospace—the Las Vegas concern building inflatable orbital
habitats—also might not be able to accommodate another intimate activity; guests
may have to leave their libidos at home. The rigors of 300-mile-high club
initiation were the subject of discussion for the Sex in Space panel at last
year’s NewSpace, the annual conference of the space enthusiasts’ organization
Space Frontier Foundation. One panel member spoke of the need, in the absence of
gravity, for "stabilization rooms," which would be equipped with handles,
Velcro, and bungee cords—furnishings that only a bondage fetishist would find
More than plumbing or a proper honeymoon suite, a space hotel
needs a means of transportation. In his book Where’s My Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived (Bloomsbury, 2007), Daniel
Wilson seems to state the obvious when he notes that viable transportation is
the key to space tourism. "All you need for routine commercial space travel is a
cost-effective, reusable launch vehicle," he writes. At least seven different
companies are trying to build such a vehicle, though most are working on
suborbital vessels, ones that would fly only about 70 miles high—far short of
the space hotels’ territory.
Among these craft are the fleet of six-passenger SpaceShip Twos
that California’s Scaled Composites is developing for Richard Branson’s Virgin
Galactic. In July, three workers were killed in an explosion at the Scaled
Composites facility in Mojave, Calif. That incident, the Challenger and
Columbia disasters, and the discovery of a gash in Endeavour’s
thermal tiles during the space shuttle’s August flight all underscore the danger
of space travel. Yet Branson and his fellow entrepreneurs, the Space Cowboys, as
Time magazine called them, have not been dissuaded.
Because suborbital craft will not serve the purposes of the
space hotels, Bigelow Aerospace founder and CEO Robert Bigelow, who made his
fortune with the Budget Suites hotel chain, is offering $50 million to the
company that creates a vessel that carries five people 250 miles above our
planet (the orbiting altitude of his facilities), circles Earth twice, lands
safely, and then performs the same feat again within 60 days. Space Exploration
Technologies, better known as SpaceX, already won a $278 million prize from NASA
to build a craft of similar capabilities by 2010. It would be used to deliver
crew and cargo to the International Space Station. However, SpaceX’s founder,
Elon Musk, has loftier ambitions. "I think we should establish life on another
planet—Mars in particular—but we’re not making very good progress," Musk told
Time. "SpaceX is intended to make that happen."
Musk’s track record suggests that his company could make that
happen. He earned hundreds of millions of dollars by building and then selling
his first two companies, Zip2 and PayPal, and he also is the chairman of Tesla
Motors, which makes the battery-powered Roadster that was featured on the cover
of Robb Report’s Private Preview issue last year.
In addition to Musk, Branson, and Bigelow, the
space-tourism-race field includes Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin)
and Doom and Quake video game franchise creator John Carmack (Armadillo
Aerospace). The past successes of these players might explain why Thomas
Pickens, son of corporate raider T. Boone Pickens, is so bullish on space
ventures—or maybe his enthusiasm stems from his job as CEO of Spacehab, a Texas
company that supplies space shuttle and space station equipment to NASA. Either
way, at a space-investment summit in April in New York, according to the
Economist, Pickens declared, "It’s time for space." He also said that his father
had taught him to invest in only those industries that pass strict tests of
financial returns, and never to invest in ones "just because they are sexy."
Pickens is right: Don’t go into space if its appeal involves
sex, and for heaven’s sake, be sure of your return.