Mon, Aug 29, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Zero-gravity fun beckons for the rich in space hotel

OUT OF THIS WORLD:The Hotel in the Heavens would cater for the super-rich and be parked in orbit 320km above Earth, offering 16 sunsets and sunrises every day

The OBSERVER, London

Russian engineers have announced the ultimate get-away-from-it-all holiday, revealing plans to put a hotel into orbit 320km above Earth by 2016. The four-room Hotel in the Heavens would house up to seven guests who would be able to cavort in zero-gravity while watching as our planet turns.

The out-of-this-world experience will not come cheaply, however. Space tourists will have to pay £500,000 (US$818,600) to travel on a Soyuz rocket to get to the hotel before stumping up a further £100,000 for a five-day stay.

“The hotel will be aimed at wealthy individuals and people working for private companies who want to do research in space,” said Sergei Kostenko, chief executive of Orbital Technologies, which will construct the orbiting guest house.

“A hotel should be comfortable, and this one will be,” he said.

The news that Russia plans to launch a hotel into outer space is the latest example in a series of extreme holidaymaking projects.

As the world accumulates more billionaires, entrepreneurs are seeking newer and more demanding ways to provide them with the ultimate in high-tech thrills.

Apart from space hotels, which have also been touted recently by US and European aerospace companies, proposals to fly thrill-seekers on rocket flights to the edge of space are now being finalized by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic as well as by US companies such as Space Adventures, Armadillo Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace.

In addition, billionaires may soon be able to buy their own artificial countries — built in international waters on oil rig-type platforms — where they can indulge in their dictatorial fantasies. Or they could buy high-performance submarines that will allow them to dive and explore the deepest parts of oceans. Being rich has never offered so many opportunities for adventure — and excess.

However, in the case of the space hotels, hedonism will be limited. Orbital Technologies have made it clear that guests will be restricted to consuming iced tea and fruit juices for their liquid intake. Alcohol will be banned. In addition, waste water will be recycled while air will be filtered to remove odor and bacteria and then returned to cabins.

Tourists, accompanied by experienced crew, will also have to dine on food prepared on Earth and reheated in microwave ovens, while showers will be carefully sealed affairs to prevent water escaping as globules that otherwise would float around the hotel’s interior.

It is scarcely five-star luxury. On the other hand, there will be many compensations. Views of the Earth from the space hotel’s special observation windows should be breathtaking as the craft whizzes round our planet every 90 minutes — providing guests with 16 sunsets and 16 sunrises a day. Visitors will also be able to choose to have their beds vertically or horizontally inclined to their line of flight. Indeed, the prospect of weightlessness offers all sorts of zero-gravity activities that can only be dreamt of on Earth.

By contrast, the pleasures offered for those who go on suborbital flights offered by Virgin Galactic will be over far more quickly. Launched on craft pioneered by aviation designer Burt Rutan, these craft will allow passengers to slip the surly bonds of Earth’s gravitational field for only a few minutes before their rocket-powered craft descends back to Earth.

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