Great views and very little gravity

January 02, 2000|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,Special to the Sun

Ambitious architects are not letting the little matter of no way to get there hold them back from designing orbiting hotels and lunar resorts, including an ambitious plan for a lunar Hilton. First dreamed up in 1967 by hotelier Baron Hilton, the plan has now taken on a reality of its own.

The British-based chain has hired London architect Peter Inston to design a $3-billion glass-domed resort with 5,000 pressurized guest rooms, private baths, galactic views, a lunar beach and artificial sea.

Honolulu architects Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo are designing a 100-guest space hotel with partial-gravity accommodations and dining rooms on the spinning perimeter so guests don't have to be taped to the walls to sleep, their food stays on the plate, and restroom visits do not require complex acrobatics. The core would be zero-gravity, says vice president Howard Wolff, for dancing on the ceiling or playing sports in three dimensions.

You won't find faux gravity anywhere on the space hotel being drawn up by John Spencer, a Los Angeles architect and developer who is president of the Space Tourism Society.

"Weightlessness is the whole point of the journey, so why would you want to compromise it by making it feel anything like Earth; that spoils all the fun," says Spencer, who envisions a fleet of cruising space hotels made of interconnected spheres that start out compressed and inflate when they get into orbit. The hotels would operate like cruise ships, with live-aboard staff, in-house entertainment and numerous venues for recreation and relaxation.

"Shore" excursions would include tethered space walks with a guide, day tours to nowhere in little space "dinghies," visits to orbiting research stations, and extensions to the moon (perhaps staying at the Lunar Hilton), about a 2 1/2 -day run.

If the moon is your destination, you could find yourself ordering room service in a cave. Engineer Gregory Bennett of the Boeing Corporation, NASA's primary contractor for the International Space Station, likes the idea of creating hotels in the mammoth lava tubes that scientists believe may be commonplace on the moon. Just seal one off and pump in air for an instant lunar habitat, he says, adding that the cave would have the additional benefit of providing protection from nasty radiation.

With a lunar gravity of one-sixth that of Earth, guests could put on wings to fly around, or don protective garments for excursions beyond the cave, such as gondola rides to Apollo landing sites, easy bounces up mountains way higher than Everest, and loads of star- and earth-gazing.

Meanwhile, back in Earth's atmosphere, developers are contemplating luxury airships that would slowly cruise the skies a few thousand feet up, much like today's cruise ships unhurriedly traverse the seas. Trips might last a weekend to several weeks, with periodic stops at Earth.

"Getting anywhere will be secondary to gorgeous views, fine dining and on-board entertainment, from spa treatments to dance bands and Broadway shows," says John Spencer, the Los Angeles architect. As on haute cruise ships, suites with balconies (protected by wind shields) will be de rigueur.

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