If you read the mini article in the latest issue of The Genre Traveler, you’d know that Zorb is a plastic bubble you climb into and roll around in. How would you like to take that experience into space?

Well, Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas, Nev., company is working on an inflatable space hotel and will be launching a test prototype today, if things go well.

“Everything is on track and scheduled for launch,” Robert Bigelow, founder Bigelow Aerospace, told New Scientist in a prepared statement.

Originally set for June 16, the launch will take off from Russia’s Dombarovsky missile base in Siberia. The test technology, called Genesis I, will be placed into an orbit 341.75 miles (550 km) above the Earth where it will inflate to its full size of 9.84 ft (3 m) by 7.87 ft (2.4 m).

“Why an inflatable space hotel? Wouldn’t that be a little dangerous?” you might ask. According to NewScientist.com, Genesis I’s walls are made of “a tough carbon-fiber material designed to withstand the impact of micrometeorites and space debris.” That’s comforting.

So where did the idea of a space hotel come from? The concept was developed from a discarded NASA idea for TransHab, an inflatable space station. I hope the idea was discarded for financial reasons and not safety! (Phew! Looks like it was.)

For this test launch, Genesis I has been equipped with 13 cameras to take photos and video of the spacecraft and of Earth, as well as personal items floating inside the inflated hotel.

Of course, a hotel that is barely bigger than a basketball player is not an ideal getaway. Not to mention, it might be a little disconcerting to see space so close to you. Genesis I is actually one-third the size of the proposed space hotel, which Bigelow hopes to have ready by 2012.

To help defray the cost of developing the space hotel, Bigelow Aerospace is offering people the chance to send up personal items, such as photos, on Genesis II for a few hundred dollars per item. Genesis II is scheduled to test later this year, if Genesis I is a success.

Of course, once the hotel is in place, people still need to get there and “the lack of a low-cost vehicle to ferry people to and from the hotel remains a big obstacle” wrote David Shiga of New Scientist. Therefore, “Bigelow has offered a $50 million prize for the first privately funded launch vehicle that could carry humans to a Bigelow space station.”

Bigelow Aerospace is the only company with plans to let individuals stay in orbit. Other space tourism companies are focusing on taking people to the edge of space for a short time and back again.

Source: NewScientist.com news service:
www.newscientistspace.com/article/dn9533-model-of-inflatable-space-hotel-set-to-launch.html

Bigelow Aerospace: www.bigelowaerospace.com

UPDATE:
Looks like Genesis I made it into space. Read more at msnbc.msn.com/id/13828908.