How soon will space tourism become a reality? As soon as 2018, if Elon Musk is to be believed who recently announced his plan to send two space tourists around the moon on his SpaceX rocket by next year. And there are many more private players in this business, including Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, who are pouring billions of dollars to make space tourism happen. But we almost never hear anything about space hotels. The very, very rich people securing ticket to the space will need a place to stay once space tourism becomes a thing. NASA recently had a competition to design commercially viable accommodations for low-Earth orbit and a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students came on top.
NASA tasked participants to come up with something that could one day also be used by travelers to Mars. Valentina Sumini and her colleagues at the MIT designed the Managed, Reconfigurable, In-space Nodal Assembly, or MARINA, a commercially owned and operated space station that contains a luxury hotel. NASA estimated the cost of operating MARINA at $360 million per year, which is significantly cheaper than maintaining the International Space Station – it takes $3 billion per year to maintain it.
In terms of design, the MARINA has a flower-like structure where the inflatable rooms are configured in the shape of petals. The inflatable pods have windows facing the Earth offering sweeping views of our beautiful planet with the space in the backdrop. The complex will have the capacity to accommodate eight to 16 guests and would have a staff of four: a valet, a doctor, a cook who doubles as a personal trainer, and a media expert who’ll take care of the uninterrupted interlink with the Earth. “MARINA’s flagship anchor tenant, a luxury Earth-facing eight-room space hotel complete with bar, restaurant, and gym, will make orbital space holidays a reality,” says Valentina Sumini. Bookings would last for two weeks and would initially cost around $5 million per person—a price that includes travel to and from the hotel. The MIT team expects costs to fall as low as $2 million per person over time.