Will people actually be staying in space hotels by 2027? That’s the promise of Orbital Assembly and Voyager Station, space startups that got a lot of headlines this week. But there are plenty of skeptics that space hotels could become a reality for Americans who are still waiting on universal healthcare.
The people behind Orbital Assembly and Voyager Station have a vision for tomorrow that includes plenty of space tourism, space manufacturing, and even orbiting space hotels for normal people like you and me. (Well, maybe not you and me exactly, but a version of you and me with a lot more money.) And they want to start construction on an orbiting space hotel by 2025, according to several news sites that broke the news recently.
But before you pack your bags, consider the past 60 years of identical promises that we’d all be vacationing on the moon. Sadly, none of them have quite worked out.
The proprietor of the 98 Hotel in Canada’s Yukon territory took out an ad in the Whitehorse Star newspaper on April 26, 1962 promising that he was going to be one of the first hotel men with rooms available for rent on the moon.
Named for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, the 98 Hotel was operated by Chris Van Overen, who explained in his newspaper ad that the world had changed dramatically within his lifetime. The world had changed so much and so quickly, in fact, that he had complete confidence he’d be opening a hotel on the moon one day soon.
From the newspaper ad:
No matter who gets to the moon first, Russia or the United States, (and I have a hunch it will be one of our Cape Canaveral astronauts) I intend to build the first hotel on the moon. I’ll call it 98 Hotel II and it will have all the conveniences of the space age. Getting to the moon or building a hotel there is not as fantastic as it might sound. We are living in a world where the difficult is becoming the normal and today’s impossibility will be tomorrow’s commonplace. We are living in a age of the unexpected and the improbably. Don’t question it... live it!
The 98 Hotel still exists, but it doesn’t look like they’re promising space travel anymore. They’re just promising social distancing in an effort to keep people safe during the covid-19 pandemic.
In 1958, the Conrad Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago hosted a lavish indoor ice-skating show with an amazing finale, complete with a Hilton hotel on the moon. It was an idea that apparently stuck with the family, because Conrad’s son Barron Hilton told the Wall Street Journal in 1967 that he wanted to cut the ribbon on the first Hilton hotel on the moon.
Barron Hilton told the Journal that this spectacular dream would happen within his lifetime, something that might not have sounded so ludicrous during the age of Apollo. The hotel chain even started handing out promotional hotel keys that read “Lunar Hilton” in 1967 and 1968, along with reservation confirmations like the one above.
The fine print seems pretty important, obviously. Your accommodations were “subject to confirmation” for arrival after the year 1980.
It wasn’t just hotel heirs who had the itch to put hotels in space. The Associated Press put out a syndicated article about space hotels in the summer of 1966, three years before humans would first set foot on the moon. And perhaps people of the 1960s can be forgiven for believing anything was possible when it came to the future of space travel.
The article called the concept of space hotels in a space city “1995-style,” which is pretty funny when you remember what 1995 was actually like.
From the July 31, 1966 edition of the Sunday Home News in New Brunswick, New Jersey:
In 1995, a 4,000-man “Space City” is in orbit around the earth—including a space hotel for tourists and a hospital to explore new areas of medical research. The moon, Mars and Venus are colonized by scientists.
The orbiting hotel is, of course, one of the most exclusive hotels in the world, travel costs being what they are. Its crowning glory is the world famous Starlight Room, which serves gourmet dinners under a naked view of the heavens.
The article went on to say that it wouldn’t be cheap, even with the most optimistic of predictions. A three-week stay at this space hotel just a decade in the future (1975) would cost $200,000 per person, including transportation. And while that sounds like a lot of money here in 2021, it’s even more when you consider inflation. Spending $200,000 in 1966 is over $1.65 million in 2021 dollars.
The article promised that by 1995, things would surely be different and a reduction in price would be “likely,” since launch costs would come down “by a factor of ten” within the next 30 years.
The 1982 book, The Kids’ Whole Future Catalog, promised kids that they’d be able to visit space hotels by the far-out year 2002. And hotels wouldn’t be anything special without a pool, especially when your audience is kids, so it makes sense that the book would feature a fictional letter bragging about the low-gravity pool.
From the book The Kids’ Whole Future Catalog:
April 16, 2002
We arrived at the space hotel yesterday, and the first thing I did was try out the swimming pool. It really is as much fun as everyone says, but the low gravity takes getting used to. Everything happens more slowly than usual - you feel as though you’re part of a movie that’s being show in slow motion. When you jump off the diving board, you can easily do two or three somersaults before you hit the water - and when you do go in, you leave a hole which takes a few seconds to fill up. The pool doesn’t look anything like the ones on Earth. It’s like an enormous barrel with water lining the inside. The barrel rotates very slowly, creating just enough force to keep the water pushed up against the sides. When you’re in the pool, you can see water curving uphill and people swimming upside down overhead. As if that isn’t strange enough, you can also see people floating through the air in the zero-g area at the center of the barrel. To get there, all you have to do is jump high off the diving board and flap your arms like wings. If you hold a paddle in each hand, it’s easier to steer. I want to tell you about all the other things I’ve done, but there isn’t time. I’ll write again tomorrow.
Needless to say, we weren’t exactly floating in outer space in 2002. If you were an American, your world was likely inundated with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks the previous year. The country had already invaded Afghanistan under the theory that, despite not attacking the U.S. it was harboring terrorists, and the Bush administration was gearing up to invade Iraq under similarly faulty logic.
So, yeah, no space hotels in 2002.
In the year 2000, Robert Bigelow, a real estate tycoon and owner of Budget Suites, told reporters he was willing to gamble $500 million on building a space hotel. It was a bold promise and one that he would make again in 2009 and again in 2016 and again in 2018.
Well, you get the idea. We’re, um, still waiting on Bigelow’s space hotels, much like the flying car that always seems just two years away.
Do you remember the strange world of 2018? A man named Trump was president, all those crazy kids were eating Tide pods, and you didn’t have to wear a mask everywhere you went. Well, back in 2018, there was also the promise of a space hotel by 2021.
A startup called Orion Span promised to build something called Aurora Station which was supposed to be built by 2021 and serving hotel guests by 2022. The price was expensive, with 12-day trips starting at over $9 million, but no one expects the first space hotels to be cheap. The weird part, of course, is promising something so ambitious in such a short time period.
Orion tried to raise $2 million for its space hotel concept in 2019, but only raised $235,700, according to Space News. So it looks like they’re probably not going to make those deadlines of 2021 and 2022.
Of course, those are only the more earnest predictions and promises about vacations in outer space. There were plenty of other predictions from sci-fi movies and the like. The classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1967, has maybe the most famous depiction of space accommodations. And the first season of the Jetsons TV show in 1962 even told kids that space hotels were a certainty of the future.
Will Orbital Assembly be able to fulfill its promise of putting us in space hotels by the year 2027? We sure hope so. But consider us skeptical when things are crumbling here on Earth.
A new report about U.S. infrastructure gave the country a grade of C- from the American Society of Civil Engineers. It’s hard to get people to invest in space hotels when you can’t even provide reliable clean water to people here on our home planet.