While the Henry Fords of the space age compete to build an affordable spaceship, Robert T. Bigelow is planning a place for passengers to hang their helmets: an inflatable, privately owned-and-operated space station.
Lightweight inflatables are a handy way to get around rockets' limited cargo space. NASA floated the idea for years; in fact, the design for Bigelow's billowing bungalows derives from NASA patents for TransHab, a resilient, inflatable habitat engineered for possible applications on Mars, the moon or the International Space Station (ISS).
Bigelow has already placed two unmanned stations in orbit, and plans to construct another in 2014, populate it in 2015, and launch another, larger station in 2016. Individual habitats sport a spacious volume of 6,357 cubic feet (180 cubic meters), and the two stations together will house 36 people -- assuming Bigelow can round up rockets to carry them [source: Chang].
Just under $25 million per person reserves digs for 30 days, transportation included. That's about $34,700 per hour ($10 per second) -- 29 times the rate of the most expensive hotel room in the world, the Bridge Suite at the Bahamas Atlantis resort [source: Valhouli]. Still, it's a steal compared to the more than $50 million NASA pays to secure a single seat on a Soyuz spacecraft headed to the ISS [source: Moskowitz].
Prices should fall as the commercial rocket industry develops and spaceflight become cheaper. In the meantime, in exchange for a four-year commitment, you can reserve a six-person module for an annual lease of $395 million, including free taxi service for a dozen people per year (offer good through 2018) [source: Chang].
If all of that makes you feel like rocket ships are only for Rockefellers, read on.