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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 12:25 GMT


Hilton to back space hotel

The space station will be made from spent Space Shuttle fuel tanks

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

The hotel group Hilton International is to become the first sponsor of a privately funded plan to build a space station. It will be constructed from used Space Shuttle fuel tanks.

And when the Hilton Orbital Hotel is built, space visionary Arthur C Clark wants to be there for the opening.

[ image: Fuel tanks in production]
Fuel tanks in production
The project, called Space Islands, will connect together Space Shuttle fuel tanks, each the diameter of a Boeing 747 aircraft. At present they are the only part of Nasa's Space Shuttle that is not reused.

British Airways are also said to want to become involved in the project. Under consideration is a survey of BA and Hilton customers asking them if they would like to take a holiday in space.

They would be asked if they wanted it to be entirely gravity free and if they would like large windows to view the Earth. Would they like to take a spacewalk is another possible question.

"There is powerful support for this concept in Washington," said Space Island Group director Gene Meyers.

He told BBC News Online "There is no technical reason why it cannot be done."

[ image: The 47m (154 ft) long tanks are currently discarded]
The 47m (154 ft) long tanks are currently discarded
He hopes that the project will excite major companies to sponsor the project in the same way that they sponsor the Olympics.

"We need $6 - $12 billion," he said, "That is a fraction of the [$40bn] cost of the space station that is currently being built by the USA, Russia and other countries."

The space station would be made out of empty space shuttle fuel tanks. Currently, they are used once and allowed to fall back to Earth, burning up in its atmosphere. However they could easily be kept in space and outfitted as living quarters.

The most optimistic schedule for its construction is six years, given the money and the will to do it.

"Eventually there could be several of these space stations in orbit," says Meyers, "It would even be possible to put one in a figure-of-eight orbit around the Earth and the Moon. That would be quite a vacation."

The idea of using spent Space Shuttle fuel tanks is not new. It was once considered by Nasa as the basis for its own space station. However it was discarded as being too simple. It was possibly also seen as too commercial for an organisation that sees its role mainly in research and development.

Up to 100 people at a time could be ferried up to the orbital hotel, if a second-generation space shuttle was built.

[ image: A C Clarke backs the project]
A C Clarke backs the project
Space visionary Arthur C Clarke has been an enthusiastic backer of the project for a year.

He was to approach film director Stanley Kubrick to become involved. Together they designed the famous wheel-shaped space station for the film "2001 - A Space Odyssey."

But Kubrick's recent death has ended the chance for him to see his vision turned into reality.

It is no coincidence that in "2001 - A Space Odyssey" part of the space station is a Hilton hotel. The hotel group paid to be part of the film. Thirty years later Arthur C Clark has once again approached the company to be part of the new initiative.

"This space station could be built, there is no reason why it can't" said Gene Meyers "all we need is for people to find out that it can be done and then help us do it."

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