The Times: Space Holidays Becoming Reality
- Source: The (London) Times.
Saturday May 1 1999 ��
Nick Nuttall discovers why we may soon be telling high street travel agents:
'Fly me to the moon'
The Jetsons' cartoon world may before long become an accurate depiction of the
way we live
Space odyssey becomes reality
It is the ultimate holiday destination - yet it is less than 100 miles away.
Space. The final frontier is opening up to tourists in the same way that
Antarctica and the Arctic, once the exclusive preserve of the military and
specialist shipping companies, were opened up by modern cruise liners.
Experts predict that space cruises to the Moon may be possible within 10 to 20
years, while several companies in America, Japan and Europe have been competing
to be the first to take day-trippers to "astronaut altitude" - that is, space,
62 miles above Earth. Richard Branson this week outlined his plans for the new
arm of his empire: Virgin Galactic Airways.
He said he expects to be able to take travellers on a two-hour jaunt into space
for �50,000 to �75,000 within eight years. And he is in talks with several
aerospace firms including one called Rotary Rocket, whose backers include the
writer Tom Clancy.
"Finally it's come to the stage that it's going to be possible to look at taking
people into space," Branson said.
Daimler Benz, working with the German space agency, disclosed earlier this month
plans to build and launch the �10 million Hotel Galactica, which will circle 300
miles above the Earth, by 2009.
It may sound like pie in the sky. But according to Arthur C. Clarke, author of
2001: A Space Odyssey and the British visionary who predicted satellites and
mobile phones decades before they emerged: "The idea is quite practical. I am
sure that space travel will be big business in the new millennium."
He believes space travel is at the stage aviation was at in 1910, when prizes
were offered for the first non-stop solo transatlantic flight. Charles Lindbergh
achieved that feat in 1927, heralding the start of worldwide commercial aviation
and the dawn of the package holiday.
Robert Haltermann, a Washington DC-based space travel consultant who worked on
Nasa's space shuttle programme, has another analogy: he believes the market is
where the cruise ship industry was soon after 1839.
This was when Sir Samuel Cunard launched a fortnightly crossing between
Liverpool and Boston with 63 fee-paying passengers. Nowadays, 4.4 million people
take cruises each year.
The idea of holidays in space is not new. Much of the technology has existed for
decades - after all, it is nearly 40 years since Yuri Gagarin became the first
man in space.
Indeed, in 1967, Barron Hilton, chairman of the US Hilton Hotels Corporation,
discussed the feasibility of an "Orbiter Hilton and Lunar Hilton". He predicted:
"There will be travellers in outer space, and where there are travellers there
must be Hiltons."
Now, more than three decades on, it looks as if Hilton's dream is closer to
According to John Spencer, executive director of the Space Tourism Society in
Los Angeles: "A generation has grown up watching films and television on space
and living with space missions. They want to go there too."
The race for space has prompted an unlikely union between tourism and science.
Since the end of the Cold War, many engineers and aerospace companies, deprived
of military contracts, have been focusing on designs for commerical space
Another incentive is the Ten-Million-Dollar-X-Prize - an award offered by a
consortium of interested businessmen to the first-privately funded team to take
three people 62 miles or higher and back twice in a week.
Sixteen aerospace and holiday companies - 12 in America and four elsewhere,
including Britain - are competing.
They are being sponsored by travel companies such as Space Adventures in
Virginia. WildWings, a travel agent based in Bristol, is acting as UK agent for
the company, which is backing several of the competitors. These include Bristol
Space Planes of Bristol, set up by David Ashford, formerly with Hawker Siddeley,
who has worked on projects including Concorde and the military Skylark rocket.
His Ascender space plane is designed to take off from an airstrip before
switching to a rocket motor five miles up. The rocket then propels the small
plane and its four passengers at nearly three times the speed of sound to an
altitude of 62 miles.
Ascender then returns to the airfield about one hour later. Tourists get two
minutes of weightlessness and "superb views of the Earth", according to the
Other designs nearing completion include the Eclipse Astroliner from Californian
company Kelly. This is a space plane that is towed like a glider behind a Boeing
747 until, at 20,000ft, its three Russian-made RD-120 engines ignite, hurtling
the craft and its passengers 100 miles up.
Another project is Pathfinder, from the Pioneer Rocketplane company in Colorado.
It takes off like a high performance jet fighter, reaching up to 30,000ft.
"A tanker aircraft transfers 130,000 pounds of liquid oxygen into your vehicle's
fuel tank. The rocket engine ignites. Suddenly you feel three to four times the
force of gravity, pushing you deep in your seat. Two minutes later this space
plane is 80 miles up," according to the brochure.
Surveys in Japan indicate that 70 per cent would like to go into space and would
pay three months' salary to do it. Surveys in America have found 42 per cent are
Business in Britain has yet to take off.
Only two people have paid WildWings a deposit for its �55,000 Space Adventure
package comprising six days of training, health screening, talks, accommodation,
food and, of course, a trip into space. And the proposed first trip, originally
scheduled for 2001, has been put back by a year.
Dr Madsen Pirie, president of the Adam Smith Institute in London, a right-wing
think tank, is one of the two plucky ones.
He says he has been fascinated by astronomy and space since "building my first
telescope when I was eight". He is convinced that the trip will go ahead and is
certain that anyone now in their early twenties will eventually see affordable
hotels and other leisure activities in space.
Space travel consultant Robert Haltermann reckons there will be no shortage of
activities in a space hotel, including weightless or semi-weightless "dining,
space games, dancing, stage productions and cosmos-gazing".
Other planned pursuits include space walks and space buggy rides on the Moon.
Should only a few holidaymakers cross the final frontier in the next few years,
it could be because of the cost. Michael Heaney of the Space Frontier Foundation
in New York believes prices for a space holiday at an orbiting hotel might be
initally as high as �250,000.
Branson's project is a more modest �50,000-�75,000, and a week-long package to
an orbiting hotel is being touted at up to �9,375 by 2005 to 2010 by American
firm Space Islands.
Haltermann believes whatever the initial costs, prices will eventually fall.
"Today there are more than 200 cruise ships accommodating nearly 4.4 million
tourists a year. But it was once a luxury for only those few who could afford
such extravagance," he says, adding that space tourism is likely to evolve in
the same way.
Some cynics claim few will really want to boldly go. But supporters dismiss them
Robert Zubrin, chief scientist at Pioneer Rocketplane, says: "People say
'Grandma will never fly that way'. Well, that is what the railroad people said
about airplanes in 1910."
European Space Agency
Links to other stories in the same group
*Space odyssey becomes reality
*Meanwhile, back on Earth
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