Two years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, the Hilton chain of hotels was already planning to welcome guests in space.
“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 at an American Astronomical Society conference in Dallas on May 2, 1967.
Hilton, who was then the president of the family business, proceeded to lay out a detailed plan that included both orbiting and lunar hotels. “By 1967, we’d only been doing jet travel for less than 10 years, so this was really a far-reaching concept,” says Mark E. Young, a hospitality industry historian at the University of Houston.
“But it got a lot of attention: It was in newspapers for the next several days, and not only in the US but around the world. People wrote letters asking to sign reservations. In some ways it was Barron’s greatest PR coup.”
Barron Hilton was an aviation enthusiast who could fly airplanes, gliders, helicopters and hot air balloons. He organized flying competitions and get-togethers with pilots and astronauts at his “Flying M” ranch in Nevada, which included an airfield.
He has a gallery named after him at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Space was his next frontier: “I firmly believe that we are going to have Hiltons in outer space, perhaps even soon enough for me to officiate at the formal opening of the first,” he told attendees in Dallas.
He died in 2019 and never saw his dream realized, but with space tourism potentially just around the corner and commercial space stations not too far away, an actual space hotel doesn’t sound too farfetched anymore.
First on his road map was the Orbiter Hilton, a sort of space laboratory whose 14 levels were designed to accommodate up to 24 people. It was intended for “short trips in space,” such as stopovers on