Russia is planning a space hotel.
Russia is planning a space hotel.

Call it the new space race: while U.S. firms compete to create vessels capable of transporting payloads and people into sub-orbit and eventually the International Space Station, the Russian company Orbital Technologies is building a space hotel that will accommodate up to seven celestial travelers.

Guests would travel to the hotel by a space shuttle, and would endure austerities of life in space that include eating freeze-dried space food and taking sponge baths. While Orbital Technologies CEO Sergei Kostenko told Reuters the initial price would be as much as $60 million a visit, that cost could drop to about $1 million a day for a five-day sojourn.

The planned hotel represents the latest and perhaps most ambitious project in the burgeoning space tourism industry. The sector is not new -- Orbital Technologies is a subsidiary of RKK Energia, which has already undertaken commercial spaceflight and transported wealthy engineer Dennis Tito to the International Space Station in 2001.

But the field is attracting investors and companies as commercial spaceflight appears increasingly viable for not just the super wealthy (although it would likely remain the province of the wealthy). In the United States, that growth has been driven in part by the government offering competitive grants to private firms, something that has become more of a necessity since NASA terminated its space shuttle program in July. Until a company can develop a vehicle capable of transporting people to the International Space Station, American astronauts will likely be paying for seats on Russian capsules.

Space tourism is a real and fast-growing business, Kostenko said. Whoever builds the first new spaceship now will reap big dividends.