Imagine floating in a space capsule attached to a high-altitude balloon 100,000 feet above the atmosphere, with a cocktail in hand watching the sun rise over Earth.
Space travel company World View is one of the many companies hoping to make that dream a reality by 2017.
How will it work?
World View is planning an experience previously only available to astronauts. As the company outlines it, up to six explorers will be able to glide in a pressurized capsule 20 miles up to space, slowly and comfortably, for one-and-a-half to two hours. No, you won’t feel like you’re blasting off in a rocket like you might with competitors Virgin Galactic and XCOR. But because you won’t be blasting off in a rocket, you won’t need any training, a spacesuit or even an oxygen mask—just two World View crewmembers to get you up and back safely. You can get this experience for a cool $75,000 per person, a bargain compared to Virgin Galactic’s price of $250,000 per person.
To ascend in a World View capsule, gas less dense than air will expand the balloon. Once the balloon is filled, it will begin to float atop Earth’s atmosphere for a two-hour experience the company likens to sailing. At this time, cocktails will start flowing and social media posting will be available, which means you’ll be able to update your friends in real time with your surreal 360-degree view. When it’s time to descend, passengers will glide back down to land. Check out more in this recent TODAY show clip.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking though? Is this actually safe? We all remember what happened when competitor Virgin Galactic tested its spacecraft, VSS Enterprise, in October of last year over the Mojave Desert.
Jane Poynter, CEO of World View, says safety is of the utmost concern:
“The technology behind World View has been used safely and successfully for decades. Complications are very rare [on the balloons]. That said, we won’t rest until every aspect of the flight system is meticulously designed, tested, and tested again. We’re building numerous safety redundancies into our flight system so that no matter what the scenario, we can safely return passengers gently and quickly back down to earth.”
Meanwhile, at Virgin Galactic and XCOR…
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic is currently developing the next iteration of its SpaceShipTwo (after the accident over the Mojave). In fact, the company says the ship is now structurally complete.
When asked about the date of its first flight, a Virgin Galactic spokesperson said the company “expect[s] to roll the finished vehicle out for the first time and continue the test program later this year [of 2015]. Commercial service will start once the vehicles are thoroughly tested and when the team is content that all risks are fully understood and can be managed safely.”
At the same time, XCOR is developing a suborbital vehicle called Lynx, similar to Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered option but that, according to plans, will not require a mothership. It will also carry fewer passengers and have a quicker turnaround transporting passengers.
Passengers will be weightless on these two World View competitors, which won’t be the case on World View’s balloon but passengers will spend two hours in space, instead of a couple minutes.
Which company will launch the first commercial flight? Hopefully we’ll know soon enough!
If you could afford a ticket, would you go?