In 2008, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of Companies shook up the travel industry by announcing plans to build a special spacecraft to take tourists for a quick jaunt to space. Now a new Arizona-based startup has joined the fray. But instead of zipping up at supersonic speeds, they envision a leisurely excursion.
The company, which announced this exciting venture on October 22nd, 2013, says that the spacecraft, a pressurized capsule with room for six passengers and two pilots, will be attached to a 40 million cubic foot helium balloon and take about 2 hours to rise to the stratosphere. Once there, it can float for between 2-6 hours giving the passengers a chance to take in the expansive views leisurely, perhaps even whilst sipping on some champagne. When they are ready to come down to earth, the pilots will detach the balloon and cruise down for about 40 minutes under a steerable parafoil, before gently landing on predetermined landing skids.
The good news is that at the cost of $75,000 USD, World View's balloon ride is a lot more affordable than the one being offered by Virgin Galactic, which will set passengers back about $250,000 USD. Also, it will be a very gentle ride up and a chance to see the Earth's curvature in a very relaxed manner.
The bad? The balloon only gets to about 19 miles above earth and while that is high, it is technically the mid-stratosphere and not space, which begins at 62 miles above earth. This means that the passengers will not be able to experience microgravity. Therefore, real space buffs will have to pay up for the Virgin Galactic spacecraft that are being designed to zip up to 68 miles above the surface of the earth.
However World View Corp. is confident that there will be many takers for their pseudo space flight because not only is it a lot cheaper, but it also, promises a less jarring experience than the alternative. If all goes according to plan, the first balloon flight will launch off from New Mexico in 2016. But given that the pressurized capsule is not even ready to be tested yet, we have a feeling that it may take a little longer than that.
Resources: Huffingtonpost.com, csmonitor.com