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Simone Baines

The race is
on to take the
first tourists
in space


Hand in hand with the one you love you gaze at the horizon to watch the earth rise. Then you decide to do some zero-gravity aerobics, while your partner goes off for a space walk.

It sounds like science fiction, but companies around the world are working hard to make this sort of holiday a reality. The idea of space tourism has been around for nearly forty years now. At first NASA made plans for the ultimate in holiday destinations, but then private companies became involved in the mid-1980s. The Challenger shuttle disaster of 1986 postponed their plans, but now space is back as a future holiday resort.

The Hilton hotel group has produced ambitious and serious plans for hotels on the moon, as well as orbiting hotels. The plans include beaches, observation decks, and hundreds of honeymoon suites. The Hilton group thinks that many of their space tourists will be ‘just married’ couples looking for a totally different holiday experience. But zero-gravity will be a little uncomfortable. ‘There will be space motion sickness in the first few days, with headaches and nausea,’ says Japan’s National Space Development Agency. And if you get to the toilet in time, ‘Liquids simply float in droplets,’ says George Turner, a hopeful space tour operator.

Hotels will try to prevent these problems by providing areas with the sensation of gravity. This means going to parts of the hotel that will be spinning. Centrifugal force will push you against the wall, and give the feeling of some weight. Since it will be possible to lie down, many people will probably prefer to sleep in these areas. The alternative will be to strap themselves into a sleeping bag attached to a wall with velcro.

Sunbathing will be possible, but will require some very strong sunscreen – protection factor 1000 will do it. ‘The sun can be hundreds of times as strong in space as on the ground,’ explains Turner.

However the plans all depend on on one thing – cheap space travel. At the moment the only re-usable rocket is NASA's space shuttle. Even that has to have all its engines removed and repaired after every flight. The cost of each shuttle launch is US$1 billion. A space craft that only costs US$2 million per launch is what the travel industry is looking for. So far that remains a far-off dream, but it may come a lot closer if someone wins ‘The X-Prize’.

Launched in 1997, the X-Prize offers US$10 million to anyone who can build a re-usable space craft. All you have to do is launch three people 100 km into space – twice within three weeks. So far 16 companies are racing to win the prize money. But the real prize will be the income from space tourism, estimated to be US$12 billion per year. ‘Space tourism will come, I’m sure of it,’ says Turner. ‘Just think what you'll be able to tell your friends – that you had a holiday that was really out of this world!’

Source: New English Digest

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