Sarah Rush

Super Balloons Bring Space Tourists a View from the Top

Sarah Rush

When I was a child, I remember once accidentally letting go of a pink balloon. I was distraught that I’d lost it, but my mom told me not to worry, because the balloon would float up all the way into space! I’ve since learned this isn’t true (the air eventually escapes the balloon and it pops), but fairly soon we will be able to fly balloons up into space—near space, at least!

Companies are now developing balloon space tourism: pressurized pods hanging from massive high-altitude balloons that can travel into an area of Earth’s stratosphere called near space. At this height, not only can you view hundreds of distant stars, you can also observe the curvature of Earth!

One company developing these space balloons is World View Enterprises. Called Voyager, the tourist trip involves an enormous balloon that carries a passenger pod which can hold five people in addition to two crewmen. When aboard, you will rise to more than 18 miles above sea level! For comparison, commercial airplanes fly at about 6 miles above sea level. At this incredible height, you don’t yet experience weightlessness due to a lack of gravity, but you will be about three pounds lighter—talk about an instant diet. The balloon trip takes about five or six hours in total, with two full hours in near space. There is even Wi-Fi on board! Check out a simulation of the World View balloon trip here.

A ride in the Voyager is projected to cost $75,000 per passenger, but this price is actually far cheaper than rocket-based space tourism, such as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which will cost $250,000 a pop.

The Spanish company Zero 2 Infinity is likewise developing a balloon for near space tourism, one that flies even higher than the Voyager program. The project is named Bloon, and would take passengers a whopping 22 miles above sea level. The company is still working on their space tourism venture, but continues to succeed with its balloons for other purposes. On March 14 of this year, Zero 2 Infinity successfully launched its first test flight for Bloostar, a project that uses high-altitude balloons to launch satellites.

It seems that the final frontier will soon be open to all people (well, those who can afford it), not just those lucky enough to become astronauts. Who knows, maybe in the future it’ll even be possible to send tourists to Mars! Only time—and space—will tell.

Did You Know?

In Versailles, France, in 1783, the first living beings to fly in a hot-air balloon were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. The Montgolfier brothers, the pioneers of balloon travel, were behind the flight, which lasted about eight minutes and crossed nearly two miles—don’t worry, the animals landed completely unharmed!

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