If you can't afford a trip into orbit as a space tourist aboard a cramped Russian Soyuz capsule (about $35 million) or a reservation on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne (price tag: $250,000), World View Enterprises just might have the ticket: a leisurely high-altitude balloon ride for a less-than-stratospheric $75,000.
Tucson-based World View on Tuesday unveiled the planned balloon rides, which the company says will reach altitudes of about 100,000 feet — high enough to see the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth.
On its website, World View boasts "majestic views of our planet, slowly expanding below ... certain to captivate you, as you ascend to the edge of space."
"Seeing the Earth hanging in the ink-black void of space will help people realize our connection to our home planet and to the universe around us," World View CEO Jane Poynter said in a statement on Tuesday. "It is also our goal to open up a whole new realm for exercising human curiosity, scientific research and education."
"Passengers on World View balloon flights will ride inside a capsule designed by Paragon Space Development Corp., which is also aiding two private Mars efforts — the Inspiration Mars mission to send two astronauts on a Red Planet flyby in 2018 and Mars One, a project that aims to land four people on the Red Planet in 2023 as the vanguard of a permanent colony.
Paragon has already begun testing capsule components and will soon start demonstrating the flight capabilities of the entire system, World View officials said."
"The ability to spend hours at 100,000 feet, does offer new opportunities, even if it doesn't include the weightlessness being touted by Virgin Galactic's parabolic flight path. The helium balloon could be launched at night to offer a spectacular sunrise opportunity with pretty much all of the atmosphere below you, and the darkness of space remaining above you even after the sun is up."
But going aloft 19 miles isn't for the faint of heart. A look at the company's promotional animation (above) shows the gentle ascent of the gondola/capsule and then its separation and return via para-glider.