From: New Scientist Magazine
Posted: Wednesday, June 6, 2001
Dennis Tito made do with the space station, but future space tourists will expect more fun.
WELCOME to your holiday destination: the Moon. After landing at the spaceport, a surface shuttle will whisk you to your hotel, the Moon's first. Its two needle-like towers soar over the rim of a deep canyon, and between them you'll see Earth rising. Enjoy the view. Enjoy low gravity. Enjoy your stay.
It's still fantasy, but maybe not for long. Hans-Jurgen Rombaut of the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture in the Netherlands has designed a lunar hotel that for the first time exploits the unique conditions on the Moon- and the building materials available there. The hotel could be up and running by 2050. "Taking into account all the weird circumstances on the Moon was a tremendous challenge," Rombaut says. "This has never been done before at this level of detail."
Rombaut's hotel is a far cry from your average establishment-in fact, he prefers to call it a "sensation engine". The hotel's two slanting towers, each 160 metres high, will provide tourists space to indulge in "low-gravity games" such as indoor mountaineering, abseiling and "flying" using special suits with bat-like wings.
Suspended from the Moon-rock backbones of the towers will be teardrop-shaped "habitation capsules" designed to look like small spaceships, so that guests will feel as if they're still travelling, says Rombaut. Each capsule will have its own supply of fresh water and a rubbish and sewage disposal unit that will be changed every day by the hotel staff.
Visitors will be encouraged to walk to the restaurants at the top of the towers instead of using elevators, helping avoid muscle deterioration during their two-week stay.
The low gravity-one-sixth of the Earth's-and the absence of wind were a boon for the architect: he was able to design a much more slender and fragile-looking building than would have been possible on Earth. But keeping the harsh lunar environment out was quite another matter. Temperatures vary between 100 °C and -150 °C, and lethal cosmic rays and solar particles bombard the lunar surface, unimpeded by the ultra-thin atmosphere.
To shield the interior from this onslaught, Rombaut designed a 50-centimetre-thick hull. It consists of two outer layers of Moon rock and a 35-centimetre layer of water held between glass panes. The water absorbs energetic particles and helps keep the temperature constant, and the Moon rock provides further protection. Windows are formed simply from holes in the Moon-rock layer. Thanks to the low gravity, the hull will weigh less than a 7-centimetre-thick layer of concrete on Earth, says Rombaut.
The cost of launching tonnes of steel and water to the Moon is clearly a hurdle. "As much as possible has to be manufactured on the Moon itself, using existing minerals and ores," says Rombaut. It is possible that there are large amounts of water on the Moon, stored as ice in craters near the south pole that stay permanently in shadow.
Bernard Foing at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk says Rombaut's design is the most detailed proposed so far. "The most recent knowledge about the Moon has been taken into account," he says. Foing is also chairman of the Lunar Explorers Society, a group of space buffs who hope to construct a robot Moon base by 2015, followed by a manned base by 2020 and a real lunar village by 2040. "This hotel would fit very well in our scheme," he says.
Rombaut hopes that millionaire Dennis Tito's recent tourist flight to the International Space Station will kick off the era of space tourism. But even half a century from now, visitors will still need deep pockets, Rombaut says, as a two-week stay in his low-gravity leisure centre will probably cost as much as a mortgage on a house.
Author: Govert Schilling, Utrecht
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New Scientist issue 6th June 2001
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