Remember when Felix Baumgartner free-fell for four minutes and 19 seconds after he ascended to the edge of the atmosphere on a giant helium weather or “space balloon” before parachuting safely back to Earth? Now any paying customer can take a balloon to the “edge of space;” but jumping out like Baumgartner would be discouraged.
Passengers Can Take a Balloon From Tucson to the “Edge of Space” and Back
A company called World View is establishing their headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, and they specialize in floating their passengers 20 miles upward to view planet Earth like they’ve never seen it before. They expect to start taking on passengers at some point towards the end of 2016, but it’ll cost you a pretty penny to take that atmospheric-bordering flight.
But if you’ve got $75,000 burning a hole in your pocket, then this will be a ride worth taking. Just how high do these high-tech helium balloons go? Commercial jets fly at about 45,000 feet, and U2 spy planes speed at around 75,000 feet. World View’s space balloons reach their target altitude around 100,000 feet before beginning their slow descent back to solid ground and returned back to Tucson.
A Luxury Aerospace Experience
The ascent takes about 90 minutes, and includes cocktails to accompany passenger’s lingering views of the line between space and our planet. They’ll hover there for some time, above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere; the expensive luxury balloon voyage brings new meaning to the top 1%.
Passengers won’t be crammed into a small chair like Baumgartner was, either. They’ll ride in style in one of World View’s fully-pressurized capsule the size of a Winnebago. It seats six passengers plus two crew members, and features a bathroom, refreshment bar, WIFI access, and 360-degree views.
Safety Test Almost Complete; World View Expects to Operate in Tucson in 2016
Aerospace balloons have been thoroughly tested. World View’s board of NASA scientists include astronaut Mark Kelly, who is serving as director of flight crew operations, and former head of science at NASA and principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, Alan Stern. While more safety testing is going to be done before World View’s doors open in Tucson, the company still hopes to be up and running by the end of the year.
They’ve had several successful test launches since they began their testing in 2014, and even broke the record for the highest recorded parafoil flight ever. Some specifics have yet to be determined by World View, such as the safety concerns of children under the age of 10 taking the flight.
The headquarters themselves are slated to sit next to the Spaceport Tucson launch site. This will be the state of Arizona’s first such space-specific launch pad of its kind. The designs look like a massive flight hangar, and it’ll likely house an impressive crew of scientists and space-endeavor experts to aid World View in the expansion of their commercial space exploration pursuits. Whether or not the company will branch into aerospace research is also yet to be determined in these early stages of development.