Space travel has recently become a hot topic, especially with the flood of news surrounding the commercial space tourism industry. Now, the race to space only continues to intensify as largely successful moguls, such as Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk of SpaceX, face off in what promises to become a multi-billion dollar industry.
Today, as technology increasingly becomes more advanced, everyone is begging the same question: not of whether or not we can go to space, but when? How long must customers wait before they can blast off into the sky?
The answer? Sooner, rather than later and probably not in the way you’ve imagined. Instead of rocket-powered sub-orbital flights, like those proposed by Virgin Galactic, high-altitude ballooning might be the most practical way to allow tourists to experience space – or at least, near-space.
According to CNN, ballooning is already a tried and tested technology – the “origin of space travel,” states Annelie Schoenmaker, the external relations and legal officer for Zero2infinity. In fact, flights powered by helium filled balloons began in the early 1930s, and the technology still remains an important tool for space science and research.
Zero2infinity is one of two companies that plans to utilize “Bloons,” or pressurized capsules that are suspended beneath helium balloons, to launch passengers to near space for the price of €110,000 ($124,000). World View will also offer similar trips for $75,000.
Balloons, unlike rockets, can only travel to a height of 30-40km – so tourists won’t technically be in actual “space,” which is defined at 100km. Regardless, it’s pretty darn close. Those willingly to take the ride will find themselves soaring above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere. Although not high enough to experience weightlessness, tourists will be able to see the Earth in the blackness of space, the sunrise over our planet and the “Thin Blue Line” of Earth’s atmosphere.
The actual trip, estimated to take between 1.5 – 2 hours, can launch from anywhere in the world, as long as weather permits. Upon reaching the destination, tourists can then explore the edge of the atmosphere for up to two hours, even taking time to dine on the craft. Once built, the vehicle will also boast toilet facilities – just in case.