Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Space Tourism ready for take-off
The spinning space hotel
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse
The time when ordinary people can go into space as tourists is fast approaching believes space visionary Sir Arthur C Clarke. He told BBC News Online that it is about time we built a hotel in space.
His call for a renewed effort to get tourists into space comes on the day of the first of two conferences this year devoted to space tourism.
The conferences, in Germany and in the United States, are tapping into the feeling that advances in technology are at last bringing the space tourist concept within reach.
Even the head of Nasa, Dan Goldin, has said it will happen. "In a few decades there will be a thriving tourist industry on the Moon," he recently told American politicians.
It is very difficult to estimate the cost of a trip into space but sums of £50,000 for a one-hour flight have been mentioned.
Sir Arthur points out that the market for space tourism could be enormous. "In many countries, more than half the people who were asked responded that they would go into space as a tourist."
Testing is planned for later this year and analysts expect that at least one of the spacecraft will prove viable.
In the UK, too, expectations are high. "Passenger flights to space will start within a decade," said David Ashford of Bristol Spaceplanes, a small company with big plans.
This will happen when rocket technology merges with aeroplane technology. "Aeroplanes are reusable and cheaper and they bring the concept of a sub-orbital spaceplanes within the range of a small company."
In a 30-minute flight, it would reach an altitude of 100km (62 miles) and spend two minutes there. This is above the altitude of 80km (50 miles) that the United States Air Force regards as qualifying for astronaut wings.
Private space stations are also possible. Earlier this year, BBC News Online reported that a concept based on reusing the space shuttle's fuel tanks was receiving serious backing.