Hotels in orbit, and space headaches

How much would you spend for a stay in orbit?
28 March 2024

Interview with 

David Whitehouse


this is a picture of an astronaut doing a space walk


Up into space now, and stories of orbiting hotels and spacefarers with headaches with the space scientist, author and former BBC science editor, Dr David Whitehouse…

Chris - I was intrigued to see that I could be going on holiday in space <laugh> not for long and only if I have about 40 or 50 million quid. But this is an American company that is saying a hotel coming to an orbit near us, in other words Earth orbit, imminently.

David - Yes and no. It's true the International Space Station is coming to the end of its life and it'll be replaced by a lot of smaller space stations built by smaller companies. But big companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin will build these stations. And on the side of that, there are lots and lots of smaller companies who want to get in on the act. And this company is one of them. And what they're hoping to do is dazzle you with a dream of a hotel in space and a vacation in space that is more science fiction than reality, in the hope of attracting investors so they can get the things started. That's a well-worn technique to actually get space missions and space enterprises working is that you promise them not quite the Earth, but you promise them a hotel in space, knowing you can't deliver in a couple of years time. But if you get enough people enthusiastic with enough money, you can be on your way and start your journey to actually doing it perhaps a few years later. So hotels in space, yes, 10 years away perhaps, but if somebody tries to sell you a room in a hotel in the next couple of years, then look at the small print. We will eventually be able to buy hotels in space for the very rich. And there are a lot of very rich people who could sustain a market for this, but not yet. Not for you and me.

Chris - Reading the report of what above space has in mind suggests just getting there is about £40 million. Your 4-18 hour stay on their proposed station. They've got two in mind, Voyager and Pioneer. One of them actually has 400 rooms they say they're going to have in space, which effectively 'creates' gravity by spinning. I'm not sure what the experience will be like, but it certainly sounds like something not for the faint hearted at this stage.

David - And also the bank balance of above space is not exactly healthy. So you might want to think twice before you invest.

Chris - You might get marooned up there. The other thing that came out, there's a paper on astronauts and headaches. So let's hope that when you've spent your 40 million quid, you either take the paracetamol along or they've got some for you to take. What's this all about this, this point about people who are spacefarers suffering headaches?

David - Well, you know, when you go into space, there are all sorts of problems associated with zero gravity. Because zero gravity is not natural. We have not evolved in zero gravity and we can't live in zero gravity indefinitely. There are adaptation and serious problems in living in zero gravity of which headaches was the particular subject of this study. And they found that now when you go into space and you choose an astronaut, you are a fit person, the type of fitness that actually most people could achieve but few do. And they quite naturally don't suffer from headaches down here on the ground during training, but they do in space. I mean, only about 40% of them said in a survey over 10 years of going into space with the various astronauts, that they had headaches from time to time, but most of them, nine out of 10 said when they went into space, they had headaches. And that's an interesting reason for that. They think it might be due to pressure in the brain, which is serious and needs studying. We still have such a long way to go to understand how humans adapt to go into space. There's a funny story. The Americans used to say that the thing they used to get was sore hands. And why did you get sore hands? They said, because every time we went to touch anything, a Russian cosmonaut would slap us on the hand and say, 'don't touch' <laugh>. And you know, go and mop up the condensation. It's gone way beyond that. Going into space for long periods of time does serious things to your body, of which headaches are perhaps not the most important, but needs to be studied. And certainly, say, Scott Kelly, who was in space for well over a year. It's likely he's not back to normal now because he was in a terrible state when he came back. And there's an astronaut on the Space Station now called Gennady who, when he comes back later this year, will have spent over 1100 days in space on his various missions. He may never be totally back to normal because of the problems which he will bring with him, this industrial disease for astronauts. If we want to go to Mars in the future, we need experiments and studies like this and we need to know a lot more about how people react to being in space.


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