Space Travel for the Rest of Us

The developer of the first orbital hotel starts small, with a miniature suite for some of the little things in your life

OK, so it's only for snapshots and objects no larger than a golf ball, but Las Vegas real-estate developer Robert Bigelow is taking reservations for the first space-travel program for the masses. Late next month, Bigelow plans to launch a 15-foot inflatable spacecraft from Russia on a converted intercontinental ballistic missile. A sort of flying attic, the craft will carry more than 4,000 photographs, 500 objets d'art and other mementos contributed by members of the public.

The price per photo or item: $295. Time in orbit: five years, give or take, until the spacecraft eventually burns up in the atmosphere. During that period, customers can log on to Bigelow's Web site (bigelowaerospace.com) and watch live camera views of the Earth slowly turning 342 miles below the craft. They'll also get a glimpse of the module's pressurized interior, in which their tchotchke of choice will drift around with other keepsakes.

The spacecraft, Genesis II, will join its non-commercial twin, Genesis I, which launched into space in July. Both crafts are one-third-scale test versions
of a full-size space station that Bigelow hopes to launch by 2012 [see "The Five-Billion-Star Hotel," March 2005]. As you might expect, a stay in the larger ship would cost a bit more than in the pint-size version: $7.9 million for a week.