Exclusive: Las Vegas Company to Make Outer Space Trips Possible - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Exclusive: Las Vegas Company to Make Outer Space Trips Possible

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Ever dream of taking a trip into outer space? A Las Vegas businessman has taken a giant leap toward fulfilling such dreams.

Hotel owner Robert Bigelow says his Genesis One spacecraft is sending back reams of data from its orbit 550 kilometers above the Earth.

It's been a long time since anyone used the words fun and space exploration in the same sentence, but that's one of the main objectives of Bob Bigelow's self-funded space program. He's got all kinds of creative ideas for getting the public interested in space again, some of them with a Las Vegas flavor.

If humans ever return to the moon or go on to Mars, there's a pretty good chance they will do so in one of Bigelow's creations.

Eric Haakonstad, program manager at Bigelow Aerospace, said, "We've got some great news. It is healthy and it's alive."

Las Vegas businessman Bob Bigelow never expected to hear good news on Wednesday. He expected his Genesis One spacecraft to fail. Not even close. From the launch of a Russian rocket in Siberia, to the successful deployment of the craft in orbit, to the contact and control achieved by his team, everything came up aces.  

Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, commented, "It still hasn't sunk in yet."

But it's about to, by necessity. In the first TV interview he has ever granted, Bigelow told the I-Team about his goals, short and long term. Some will knock your socks off, and some will be just plain fun.

Bigelow said, "It's a major objective of ours. It's connected to the general public and by God make it fun."

How so? Each of Bigelow's spacecraft -- and he expects to have eight of them floating around up there within the next three years -- will carry an array of video cameras, inside and out. Genesis One has already sent back still images of itself. What if the exterior surface of the craft were used as a message board -- Happy Birthday Mom or Drink Duff Beer -- images that would be downloadable on your home computer.

Bigelow thinks people would pay for something like that. Inside the craft, other cameras could focus on a clear container filled with photos of loved ones, and people on Earth could watch as their own photo floats around in zero gravity.

Bob Bigelow explained, "Freeze-frame it, download it to our website so people can see the photo if they are away from their screen. They could see it in real time if they sat there and watched. Pictures, photos, anything from toys to bottle caps, whatever somebody wants to fly and say, hey there's something of mine on that spacecraft."

Something like your least favorite Madagascar hissing cockroach, or maybe a few scorpions.   Genesis One is an unmanned mission, but it's still carrying passengers, an assortment of bugs to gauge how critters handle space. The "bug room" at Bigelow Aerospace contains the next generation of 8-legged astronauts. Science students could design their own experiments and send them up.

You say you like games? How about space bingo? As the spacecraft cruises around Earth, it could conduct bingo games in different languages, not for cash but maybe for points and prizes or just fun.

Ideas like these could generate revenue streams for Bigelow until his big stuff becomes operational. The Nautilus -- gigantic by space standards -- is three times the size of the modules on the International Space Station.

Bigelow expects to create his own space complex, part of which could be used as a hotel. He is confident he can make it more affordable.  And other modules could be used by astronauts from other nations who have no shot at ever getting a mission to the existing space station.   And when NASA talks about a return to the moon or a jaunt to Mars, chances are strong that Bigelow's expandable habitats will be along for the ride.

Bob Bigelow continued, "Don't see why not. We don't see any reason these can't be used on the surface of the moon for bases."

Not to rub it in or anything, but one of my Channel 8 business card's is up there floating around inside Genesis One at this moment. I was able to slip one into the box several months ago during a visit to Bigelow's plant. He is already taking reservations for the next launch, which is set for December 2006.

One other point, NORAD has been tracking Genesis One, perhaps because it's carrying a certain package for NASA. NORAD told Bigelow Thursday that there's an unknown object shadowing Genesis One, so close that it's causing some communications problems.

How is Bob Bigelow going to make space tourism more affordable?

A three-week vacation aboard Bigelow's space hotel would run you about $8 million. It's a huge amount of money, but much less than the $20 million rate the Russians are charging. The price will fall. I'm saving my nickels.

Send feedback to I-Team Reporter George Knapp at gknapp@klastv.com

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