Headlines > News > U.S. Hotel Tycoon Reaches for the Stars

U.S. Hotel Tycoon Reaches for the Stars

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Sun Aug 8, 2004 4:51 pm
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By Michael Belfiore LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Budget Suites of America owner Robert Bigelow made his fortune by offering weary business travelers a fully furnished home away from home, complete with on-site laundry.
He now wants to bring the same feeling of comfort and convenience to a new frontier in leisure: outer space.

From a 50-acre research facility on the outskirts of Las Vegas, the 60-year-old entrepreneur can survey the length of the city’s famous Strip, home to some of the biggest hotels in the world.

Still, Bigelow has his sights set higher — 250 miles higher, to be exact.

Through his latest business venture, Bigelow Aerospace, the hotel mogul, who caught the space bug as a boy in the 1950s, has been quietly building the world’s first commercial space station.

If all goes well, space hotels will not be far behind — provided that future space tourists have a way to check in.

“We can build it,” Bigelow said. “But they may not come.”

Even so, after five years of effort behind closed doors, Bigelow Aerospace is nearly ready to begin flight-testing its hardware, and has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval to launch its Genesis module into orbit on a commercial rocket in November 2005.

Genesis is a one-third scale test version of the company’s habitable Nautilus module, the first of which could be launched as early as 2008, depending on the results of subsequent orbital tests, scheduled for 2006 and 2007.

Watermelon-shaped, with 330 cubic meters of interior volume, the Nautilus would approach the International Space Station’s current 425 cubic meters, and could be attached to others of its kind to create much larger orbital habitats.

Bigelow’s efforts come as the commercial space race is heating up. A U.S. team has set Sept. 29 as the date for a second space launch of SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded manned ship to reach space.

If the craft designed by aerospace developer Burt Rutan can make that flight with three people on board and repeat the entire venture within two weeks, it could claim the Ansari X prize, $10 million for the first team that: (1) Launches a piloted, privately funded spaceship able to carry 3 people to 62.5 miles, (2) Returns safely to Earth and (3) Repeats the launch with the same ship within two weeks. Continued

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