In the not too distant future, the surface of the moon may be dotted with vast snail shell structures that are home to the first colonists of outer space.

The revolutionary 100-meter high Escargot Domes are the brainchild of Nishimatsu Construction Co. engineers, who believe that tourists could be checking into a snail-shaped hotel within 30 years, while others are living and working in this lunar metropolis.

Nishimatsu began the Escargot City project in the late 1980s as part of research into future construction schemes in space. Despite the economic slump that has badly affected all sectors of Japanese industry, Nishimatsu has doggedly continued its research.

Several other Japanese construction firms have produced concepts for moon bases, for both research and tourism, but Nishimatsu’s design stands out because of its unique spiral shape.

“Part of the project involved assessing the best shape for a building on the moon,” said Jun Saito of Nishimatsu’s Technical Research Institute who is in charge of the project. “We believe the snail shell design may well be even stronger than a pyramid or a traditional box-shape structure.”

The structure will either be a single or a pair of pressure-resistant tubes that are inflated and coiled into a spiral that narrows toward the apex, the length of the tube determining the height of the snail’s shell.

The flexibility of the pressurized tube will be important, Saito said, to protect the city’s inhabitants against the harsh environment of the moon.

The lunar atmosphere is heavily laden with dust, meteorite strikes are fairly common, radiation levels are high and temperatures fluctuate wildly — as much as by several hundred degrees. Escargot City will have to be designed to withstand these factors, as well as any others that crop up, before the project can get under way.

Saito is unable to put a figure on how much the company has spent on its space research to date — although 5 million yen was spent on a scale model alone — and he emphasized that Nishimatsu is a long way from actually building the city yet.

“We are mainly examining space-development techniques,” he said. “Escargot City is really only a dream for us construction companies sometime in the future.

“Our priority now is to make technological advances for space structures. The real benefits of projects such as these are discovering details about the geology, geography and chemical makeup of the moon.

“A true conceptual study of moon bases must be based on detailed studies, so it is difficult to say just how many years it will be before we can realize Escargot City.”

He is quick, however, to add that it is his “personal dream” to travel in space as a tourist.

Within the civilian space industry, it is widely accepted that space tourism will be a vast and money-spinning business in the near future. Private holiday companies — including the Hilton hotel chain — are looking into the feasibility of hotels in orbit or on the moon, and even NASA carried out a study recently, concluding that space is the next frontier that tourists want to conquer.

And as the demand increases, so will the pressure for the hotels to be built.

At present, however, the firm’s Escargot City is still only a scale model, and the Hotel Nishimatsu — in the familiar snail shell shape — remains a concept.

But Saito is confident that descendents of the model will one day accommodate tourists on the surface of the moon.