Editpor’s note: Allan Maurer is a co-ounder and frequent contributor to WRAL TechWire. He writes regularly about space exploration.

DURHAM – Space tourism may be on the verge of a major breakthrough. In the not very distant future, you may be able to book a room in a space hotel.

I still remember riding in a car with my mom and step-father back in the late 1950s, reading a science fiction magazine with an illustration of men landing on the moon. “I don’t know why you read that stuff,” my stepfather said. “That will never happen.”

Well, it did and science fiction in my lifetime has moved from fiction to fact so often, I sometimes have trouble keeping track of which is which.

Allan Maurer

The Gateway Foundation is developing designs for  the world’s first space hotel –called the Von Braun Space Station. It’s design, a throwback to Von Brans’s giant wheel space station, which spins to create artificial gravity, could become a reality by 2025.

It’s one of the latest moves in the billionaire led space tourism plans by Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos.

The proposed Von Braun  station would consist of a 190-meter-diameter wheel that will rotate to create a gravitational force similar to that felt on the moon. The wheel will include 24 individual modules with sleeping compartments and other amenities.

It will feature cruise-ship-like bars, restaurants, and activities, such as movies, music concerts, and educational lectures.

The station’s wheel will rotate to create a gravitational force similar to that felt on the moon. Twenty-four individual modules with sleeping accommodation and other support functions will dot the wheel. Some modules will be rented to governments to conduct scientific experiments.

An illustration of a space hotel room. Copyright, Gateway foundation.

“Space tourism and space habitation for the average person is on the brink of a major breakthrough,” Tim Alatorre, senior design architect of the Von Braun Space Station, told dezeen magazine, He said that with the dramatic increase in private companies providing low-cost launch services to orbit and the overall commercialisation being pushed by NASA, it is going to be financially feasible to travel in space even if you’re not ultra-rich.

Viewports on the space hotel Copyright Gateway

The Gateway Foundation has said it’s goal is to make space travel available to everyone.

The Von Braun station’s artificial gravity,  designers say, will prevent many of the difficulties associated with weightless space travel, “”Eventually, going to space will just be another option people will pick for their vacation, just like going on a cruise, or going to Disney World.” The low gravity may also be friendly to those suffering from arthritis or other ailments making it difficult to move on Earth.

The Von Braun wheel. Copyright the Gateway Fopundation.

The “Von Braun’ name for the project may come under attack. Von Braun, who headed the team that designed the U.S. Saturn rocket that launched Americans to the moon, also headed the Nazi buzzboomb U2 rocket attacks on London during WWII, even though his own interest was in the conquest of space, not war. He was inspired by science fiction and had the leading SF magazine of the time, “Astounding Stories,” smuggled into Germany  during the war years.

He was implicated in the use of slave labor to construct his weapons of terror. The Nazis turned his skill to destructive uses. But he was never held responsible for what may have been serious war crimes. He went on to be the leading figure among the NASA engineers who sent men to the moon.

Photo shoot: Remembering Apollo by getting up close to massive Saturn V Rocket

Despite his Nazi connections–he was a party member–he was co-opted  by the U.S. space program and appeared in Disney specials about the conquest of space in the 1950s, including his vision for a giant revolving wheel space station that creates artificial gravity. It may seem tame now, but it was all exciting at the time and may be on the verge of becoming reality.

The huge Saturn rocket that lofted men to the moon filled the huge exhibit hall.

Alatorre says the next breakthrough needed to make space tourism normal is going to be a high capacity Earth-to-orbit launch vehicle, probably the Elon Musk Starship and super heavy booster with a capacity for 100 people. Musk hopes to have the Starship operational by the end of 2020.

While the space program supported only by NASA stalled a number of times since the initial moon landings, Robert Zubrin, author of “The Case for Space,” said in a Washington Post article, “There is a revolution underway in space flight. A well-led entrepreneurial team can do things only the governments of major powers could do, in one-third the time and at one-tenth the cost.”

They have already done things that eluded NASA, such as building reusable launch vehicles, greatly reducing costs, and landing a rocket on its tail, something that is straight out of the science fiction that Musk and Bezos, like Von Braun, and any number of astronauts, have cited as inspiration.

While space tourism is currently a “hobby for the rich,” according to the Post article, Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Space Flight Federation, said in the Post article, adding, that in coming years prices will decline “to the point where it will become like a typical vacation.”

According to a report from UBS, by 2030, space tourism will be a $3 billion annual market, rocket engines will be mass produced, and orbital travel will become mainstream, whisking passengers on high speed journeys that slash 15 hour jet rides to 39 minutes.

The Gateway Foundation goal is to be operational by 2025 with 100 tourists per week visiting the hotel. Costs are likely to be very high initially. Recently, several rich tourists paid $20 million for rides to the International Space Station.

Eventually, Gateway plans to have two stations in orbit with a population of at least 500 permanently living in orbit and 200 tourists per week, for a total of 10,000-plus people per year.

Beyond  2030, the the Gateway Foundation’s next project is a station called The Gateway, which will house 1,400 people in a space city. It will be a way station for travelers between the moon and Mars.

North Carolina has been intimately connected to the space program since the Mercury astronauts made the first U.S. space flights.

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