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Space Was Always the Plan for Hilton

Voyager Space,Starlab,Lockheed Martin
Mihir Tripathy
Matt Morgantini
October 4, 20229:00 AM UTC (UTC +0)

Luxurious space hotels are a classic Sci-Fi trope — but the dream could soon become reality.

American hospitality giant Hilton recently signed a deal with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin to build the solar system’s first space hotel onboard Starlab, a space station currently under development. The deal, which came together during the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, will see Hilton designing the hospitality suits and sleeping arrangements for Starlab.

The partnership was first reported by CNBC's Michael Sheetz. Voyager Space CEO and Chairman Dylan Taylor said his company is "looking at space tourism with a fresh set of eyes" and reimagining the experience. The company will also work with Hilton to study opportunities for marketing astronaut experiences and for the space station itself.

Voyager Space and its operating company Nanoracks are developing the Starlab space station in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. Aiming to be operational as early as 2027, Starlab is one of three private space station projects which received funding from NASA as a part of the Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) project. Nanoracks received $160 million from the program — the largest individual award — while the other recipients were Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus-based space station. The three CLD awards follow an existing $140 million contract with Axiom Space, but the partnership with Hilton is the first of its kind among the other stations in development.

Although this isn’t the first time the space and hospitality sectors have crossed paths.

Hotel of Future Past

Two years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, Hilton was already planning to welcome guests in orbit and beyond. At a time when space technology development seemed boundless, it was assumed that such concepts would be commonplace in the near future.

"Scarcely a day goes by when someone doesn't ask me, jovially, when the Lunar Hilton is going to be opened. They're joking, of course. But I don't see it as a joke at all,” said Barron Hilton, son of the founder of the Hotel chain, Conrad Hilton, at an American Astronomical Society Conference of 1967 in Dallas.

As an aviation enthusiast who could fly airplanes, gliders, helicopters, and even hot air balloons, Barron saw space as his next frontier. During the address, he laid out a roadmap for expanding into space-based hospitality.

“Where do we begin?” Hilton asked the audience, “With the Orbiter Hilton, or the Lunar Hilton?” He envisioned wall-to-wall televisions, and meals as good as those on Earth — maybe better. And, said Hilton, “If you think we're not going to have a cocktail lounge you don't know Hilton — or travelers.”

“Enter the Galaxy Lounge. Enjoy a martini, and see the stars.”

Orbital Hilton was designed to be a 14-level hotel in low earth orbit that could accommodate up to 24 people. Hilton said it was intended for “short trips in space,” such as stopovers on a journey to the moon or even another planet, and would welcome guests arriving in a “six-man ferry-craft”.

Once that simple project got up and running, the next step was to expand to the Moon by building a fully-fledged underground hotel, named the Lunar Hilton. Designed to burrow 30 feet below the surface, Lunar Hilton consisted of three levels: the top was a public space, designed for the guests to socialize. It included a lounge where they would gather around a piano bar in an observation dome that allowed them to gaze at the stars or at our home planet. The second level consisted of two 400-foot corridors with 100 guest rooms. The rooms would look remarkably like those in Earth-bound Hiltons, retaining a comfortable and familiar feel. The bottom level contained all the engineering equipment needed to keep the hotel up and running.

As if setting up a hotel on the Moon wasn’t enough, Lunar Hilton would include the most sci-fi amenities.

"The bartenders will have an easy job," Hilton said. "They will push a button and out will come a pre-measured, pre-cooled mixture of pure ethyl alcohol and distilled water. Into the mixture the bartender drops a tablet — martini, Manhattan, scotch, gin — you name it. Instant drink!"

Cooking, rather worryingly, would be done in a "nuclear-reactor kitchen, mostly by machines.”

Building the Lunar Hilton underground was necessary to help maintain a constant, comfortable temperature inside, while the surface temperatures on the Moon varied outside from 127 degrees Celsius (260 F) to -173 C (-280 F).

Hilton did in fact carry out a feasibility study with the help of the students at Cornell University, and even consulted with Don Douglas, then chairman of the McDonnell Douglas aircraft manufacturing company.

One of the things that the study also designed were keys to the Lunar Hilton, which were then distributed as a promotional item in hotels.

A year later, the idea was visualized in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1968 film: “2001: A Space Odyssey” wherein there’s an office marked “Hilton Space Station 5” on the glass exterior. Here travelers could presumably make reservations for the Hilton hotel in the film’s orbiting space station.

In 1969, As the whole world was gripped with Moon fever, Hilton’s plans reappeared just days before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. Barron addressed the American Astronomical Society about the premise of hotels on our nearest neighbor. “I firmly believe that we are going to have hotels in outer space, perhaps even soon enough for me to officiate at the formal opening of the first,” he told the assembled crowd.

It was an easy story for newspapers eager to cover every detail of the space race.

Hilton’s lunar hotel campaign was a mix of pure speculation and smart marketing, but it was also a genuinely serious vision for a future of privatized space tourism. It struck a chord with people all over the world and brought a lot of attention. The hotel group even printed promotional “reservation cards,” and hopeful customers all over the world wrote letters hoping to secure their spot.

Today, Hilton and industry partners can pursue their own vision in space without the help or fanfare of NASA, which is trying to return to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program. Debate persists whether the future of humans in space is aboard habitats like the one being pursued by Voyager Space or planet-based settlements being pursued by SpaceX. Hilton wants to focus on comfort for its guest.

“For decades, discoveries in space have been positively impacting life on Earth, and now Hilton will have an opportunity to use this unique environment to improve the guest experience wherever people travel," said Chris Nassetta, current president and CEO, of Hilton. "This landmark collaboration underscores our deep commitment to spreading the light and warmth of hospitality and providing a friendly, reliable stay – whether on the ground or in outer space.”

Mihir Tripathy
Matt Morgantini
October 4, 20229:00 AM UTC (UTC +0)