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RSVPhillippi | APRIL 2016

Bounce House in Space

By Dennis Phillippi

Much of the time, I get ideas for this column from things I read in magazines lying around waiting rooms, and this one is no exception, but, before I get to the main topic, let’s talk about magazines in waiting rooms. There seems to be no logic behind what a business does and what magazines they order. The place where I get my car worked on always has copies of men’s health magazines, travel magazines, and weekly sports magazines. Apparently, they are under the impression that all of, or at least most of, their customers are men fretting about their health, wanting to get away, and not at all up to date on sports. If you are reading a weekly sports magazine from two months ago, and you learn something, you’re probably not much of a fan.    

My doctor’s office is lousy with fishing and hunting magazines and ones about celebrities I’ve never heard of. I’ve been in this waiting room plenty of times over the last twenty years or so and I’ve never seen someone sitting there who was anywhere near healthy enough to climb onto a deer stand or go deep sea fishing. They’re in a doctor’s waiting room for crying out loud, not a lodge. As for the ubiquitous celebrity periodicals, they leave me cold. The world’s fascination with famous couples baffles me. These people aren’t going to invite me to their swanky wedding or call me to find a shoulder to cry on when their two massive egos cause the inevitable divorce, so why should I care which perfect set of teeth is dating which?    

Recently, I was in the waiting room at a car dealership to have a deadly airbag replaced and the only thing I found to read was a copy of “Popular Science” that also happened to be sitting on my bathroom floor at the time. I would have read something else, but the lady across from me was hoarding all of the copies of “Highlights: Kids’ Magazine.” I ended up reading and then rereading at home a piece about a man who, on first blush, seems like a complete loon. His name is Robert Bigelow, and he wants to be the King of Inflatable Things in Space. You can see how he might come across as a nut. Bigelow made his estimated billion dollar-plus personal fortune because a few decades ago he noticed that the Southwest was booming, but it was filled with highways and no hotels. So he bought up tons of scrubland for pennies on the dollar and built cheap but clean motels within a stones throw of the Interstate. That made him very rich, but then, sensing something that not many people saw coming, he sold a bunch of real estate just before the 2008 nosedive in the economy. While the rest of us were making panicked, angry calls to our financial guy, Bigelow was starting to really roll in dough. At this point, he began to seem a little less bananas.    

Then he started eyeballing another area of property that seemed underutilized – space. He noticed that private companies were starting to get into the launch business, but they weren’t putting up much more than satellites and supplies to the Space Station. This he considered a waste. NASA had been noodling around with the idea of an inflatable spacecraft to replace the solid-as-a-school-bus Space Station, but since they were already building that one, planning another just irritated people, so they scrapped the whole project. Well, along comes Bigelow, a man familiar with making money from things other people thought were worthless, and he bought NASA’s patents for, that’s right, pennies on the dollar. Again, he was starting to seem like a kook.    

Did I mention that Bigelow is a strong believer in not just alien life, but alien visits to the Earth? Just establishing some more crazy bonefides.    

Bigelow, with his ridiculous personal wealth, and no one to tell him not to, began making plans for not only an Inflatable Space Station but also an Inflatable Moon Base, an Infalatable Space Craft to go to Mars and settle there, and, my personal favorite, Inflatable Space Hotels.    

Believe it or not, he’s not the first one to come up with Inflatable Space Hotels. As far back as the early 60s, the Hilton family was talking about building an inflatable hotel on the moon. According to my limited and last research, they’re still knocking the idea around.    

If you’ve ever seen the Space Station fly overhead is a startling experience. It moves very quickly across the sky, over 17,000 miles an hour, and is easily the brightest object in the sky. It seems much lower than you would expect, and it is only a couple of hundred miles up, seemingly huge. Here’s the thing, the Space Station is only a little longer than a football field. Imagine a hotel zipping by overhead. A hotel filled with very well to do tourists. It seems like a lot of people on the ground would have ringside seats to a Titanic type disaster.    

But, as it happens, scientists agree that this is a very real technology that would, in all likelihood be safer, cheaper, and easier to get into space than what we’re doing now. Still. It seems crazy, right? Well, on the next supply mission to the Space Station from a private company or whenever the Russians launch such things, they will be hauling up the BEAM. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, which is exactly what it sounds like – an inflatable room that will be filled with air once it gets to the Space Station and stay attached for two years to see if this nonsense could actually work. If NASA is taking him this seriously, maybe Bigelow isn’t such a lunatic after all. I’d go to an Inflatable Space Hotel. I just hope the magazines in the waiting room are current.