Gliding through the clouds is not novel, but venturing beyond the stratosphere is.
Imagine watching the ground fall away at your feet as you climb higher and higher into the azure blue sky, protected by a luxurious capsule with five other passengers and two crewmembers. Above you is an enormous helium balloon, expanded to the size of a football field that pulls you further and further away from the ground, until the blue sky dissolves into the blackness of space. Behold, the marvelous curved expanse of planet Earth greets your eyes.
Such a scene could soon be a reality as a start-up company of Tucson, Arizona commercialises high-altitude ballooning, an activity normally restricted to astronauts. World View Enterprises offers an accessible and affordable way to take passengers into space for an experience similar to human spaceflight through suborbital quests. No special training is required; all you need is USD75,000 for a reservation. The sum is quite reasonable when compared to Virgin Galactic’s USD250,000 price tag for a trip to space. Moreover, it is safer than space exploration ventures such as those by Virgin Galactic because participants of high-altitude ballooning experience far less cosmic radiation which has been documented to cause cataracts in astronauts.
A World View Venture lasts for approximately six hours from lift-off to landing. The journey from launch pad to the zenith is a gentle ride in the pressurised gondola suspended by a helium balloon which gradually expands as it floats further away from Earth. For the next two hours as the balloon hovers over the stratosphere, passengers can see the curved horizon of the planet framed against the backdrop of the cosmos. The magnificent view can spark off the ‘overview effect’, a concept coined by space philosopher Frank White to describe the inexplicable euphoria one has when seeing the world from space.
The NASA veterans and Biosphere 2 designers who lead World View Venture’s expeditions are experts in high-altitude ballooning, human spaceflight as well as environmental control and life support systems. The company’s partner and vehicle developer, Paragon Space Development Corporation is reputed for the manufacture of life support equipment designed for hazardous and extreme environments. If you are part of the voyage, be at ease knowing that dire situations depicted in the film Gravity are unlikely to unfold as their projects have been successful for decades. Just relax at the refreshment bar and share the magnificent view of your home planet on social media in real time through the gondola’s built-in internet access, documenting the memories of a lifetime.Image courtesy of World View Enterprises, Inc.