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Entrepreneurs Study Space Tourism

AP Business Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Space, tourism's final frontier.

As NASA assembles the international space station high above Earth, private lodging and travel companies are taking a serious look at orbiting hotels and other projects. Hilton Hotels Inc. confirmed this week that it is looking into the feasibility of a space hotel.

``We want to take a hard look at it and see if Hilton can be first into space,'' said Hilton spokeswoman Jeannie Datz. ``It's certainly not going to happen tomorrow. We're talking 15 to 20 years down the road, if any of it makes sense.''

Hilton isn't alone. Robert Bigelow, owner of the Las Vegas-based Budget Suites of America lodging chain, has committed $500 million into a new company — Bigelow Aerospace — with the goal of building a ``cruise ship'' that would fly from Earth orbit to the moon and back.

The notion of space resorts may not be that farfetched. A 1997 NASA study concluded that space tourism represents a potential market worth billions of dollars if economic and technical barriers can be overcome. Hilton plans to hold a symposium on the subject in December.

Space commercialization also was to be discussed today at the Space Frontier Foundation's annual conference in Los Angeles.

NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, scheduled to address the group Friday, has raised the possibility of public space travel in the past.

``We are open to proposals,'' said NASA spokesman Brian Welch. ``I don't think anybody believes it's going to happen tomorrow, but there are new space technologies coming on line. There are new spacecraft being built that could lead to widespread traffic back and forth into space.''

The challenges of space tourism would be enormous. And at this point no one can say for sure whether a space hotel would be profitable or even appealing to tourists.

Gene Meyers, executive director of Space Island Group of West Covina, Calif., believes there would be plenty of entertainment in space. His company wants to use empty space shuttle fuel tanks to build an orbiting hotel.

Guest could take space walks, gaze down at the Earth and try their hand at space gardening and minor maintenance projects.

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