facebook twitter pinterest instagram

Login With

From The Editors: Space Reservations

Larry Bean

"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

aphrodisiacal.

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.

Read Next Article >>
Photo by Janos Grapow