Russia plans orbiting hotel in space
By Alissa de Carbonnel
ZHUKOVSKY, Russia (Reuters) - A hotel in orbit, lunar sightseeing flights and luxury rides into the cosmos -- all are part of Russia's vision to ensure it is not left behind in the growing space tourism industry.
Russian firms unveiled their plans at the country's premiere air show this week at Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, saying the race was on to build a new craft to take people into space following the retirement of NASA's space shuttle in April.
RKK Energia unveiled plans for a replacement shuttle and Orbital Technologies said it hoped to build an orbiting hotel with room for seven guests by 2016. Other plans include flying tourists to the dark side of the moon and, by 2030, to Mars.
"Space tourism is a real and fast-growing business," said Sergei Kostenko, head of Russian firm Orbital Technologies, said at the MAKS air show. "Whoever builds the first new spaceship now will reap big dividends."
Although Russia currently holds a monopoly on rides to space aboard its Soviet-designed Soyuz, it starts at a disadvantage.
Foreign experts say they doubt Russian firms can achieve their ambitious goals because they lack funding and even Russian officials said it would be hard to rival U.S. private sector firms now competing for contracts with NASA.
Funding for the U.S. space program is much higher and NASA is expected to forge ahead with building a new generation of craft capable of traveling into deep space, with flights into low Earth orbit outsourced to private firms.
"The U.S. has more possibilities than us right now," said Alexander Derechin, deputy chief designer for Russia's partly state-owned space contractor RKK Energia. Continued...