July 21, 2006 |
Space flight was once a privilege reserved for astronauts. Ever since humans first began venturing into space, children have dreamed of staking their own claim on the final frontier. For those of you who never stopped dreaming, although you didn't make the government's cut, you can thank some very forward-thinking entrepreneurs with a lot of capital. Your dream of traveling beyond our world might just come true. And if Robert Bigelow has anything to do with it, you'll have an inflatable hotel to stay in when you get there.
Bigelow began his new aerospace company, "Bigelow Aerospace," in 1999. He built his fortune in real estate and now owns the Budget Suites of America hotel chain. Bigelow founded his plans for the commercial space station (hotel) upon an abandoned NASA project that sought to use inflatable structures in outer space. The structures are sent into orbit using rockets. Once they get there, the structures inflate.
Building on that concept, Bigelow's team of designers and engineers has worked to develop an inflatable structure made of carbon fiber and Kevlar (the material used to make bulletproof vests) called the Genesis I. Still in experimental stages, at only a fraction of the size of the intended finished product, the Genesis I is hardly the inflatable space hotel the team is gunning for. But after 75 million dollars, the prototype has successfully launched into orbit and inflated. The Genesis I launched from the Ukraine aboard a Cold-War-era Russian missile 500 kilometers from Earth's surface. Bigelow plans to spend 500 million dollars by 2015 to put the commercial space station in orbit. The company is currently offering a $50 million prize to the first company that can develop a private carrier capable of reaching the station.
The Genesis I may be on an unmanned journey, that doesn't mean it's without company. The Bigelow employees sent a bunch of their stuff into orbit, a privilege the company plans to offer consumers for a few hundred dollars. I don't get it, but if they want to send their stuff into space, by all means. (link)