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Wednesday, December 30, 1998 Published at 02:09 GMT


Space: The final holiday destination

Big wheel: The space hotel would orbit 320km above the Earth

Bored with the beach? Find ski-ing an uphill struggle? Worry no more, for in just a few years' time the ultimate vacation could be yours with a two-week trip into space.

James Wilkinson reports on a holiday not to be missed
For decades people have been fantasising about life out in space, but so far it is only actors in programmes such as Star Trek or the film 2001: A Space Odyssey who have been able to fulfil that dream.

But if the proposal of an American company comes to fruition, in as little as five years, hundreds of people could be blasting off into space to experience unique views and an unusual feeling of weightlessness.

Gene Myers of the Space Islands company: Space holidays should be available by 2005
Californian firm the Space Island Group is proposing holidays in its revolving space hotel which would be made out of discarded fuel tanks from the space shuttle.

The fuel tanks - which normally burn up in the atmosphere - would be linked together to form a wheel. If the wheel is made to spin, this will give it artificial gravity, meaning that paying customers will be able to walk around normally - and not spill any drinks.

[ image: Discarded fuel tanks form the accommodation for space tourists]
Discarded fuel tanks form the accommodation for space tourists
A Space Island wheel rotating once every minute has an added bonus for guests: it would give them the feeling of weighing half their normal Earth weight.

The recycled tanks, known as ETs, would be fitted with a small engine to prevent them falling into the atmosphere and 12 of them would be joined together to form the space station.

The structure would house the luxury hotel that could accommodate 350 guests and 50 staff.

For those seeking an extra-terrestrial vacation, the trips will not be cheap. Space Island Group has done its sums and come up with a bill of £15,000 for a two-week stay.

It is now trying to persuade companies such as British Airways and the Hilton hotel chain to come in on the scheme.

[ image: Arthur C Clarke thought up the idea for 2001: A Space Odyssey]
Arthur C Clarke thought up the idea for 2001: A Space Odyssey
The space hotel might seem like a revolutionary idea but science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke came up with a similar structure in his 2001: A Space Odyssey.

He is in favour of the project. "A rotating space station as we showed in 2001 would give you artificial gravity, so you could walk around normally and having weight helps a lot when you're trying to pour liquids.

"But of course at the centre there'd be no such feeling so you could have weightlessness at the centre and normal weight at the rim. The best of both worlds," he said.

Astronauts have themselves tried previously to create a space hotel. Some years ago they transformed a rocket shell into a makeshift space station called Skylab where they stayed for weeks on end.

The average discarded fuel tank is not as big as Skylab, but if several are joined together, there is enough room for several hundred people.

However, Mr Clarke says something of a tidy-up is needed in space before the hotel goes into construction.

"I'm rather worried about space getting cluttered up. Already there are thousands of satellites up there and big space hotels will be joining them.

"This is quite a serious problem because all these bits are moving very fast and we're going to have to do a big clean-up operation before it'll be really safe."

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