Balloon ride to blackness: $75,000
A less expensive means to a first hand glimpse of outer space is being promised by private enterprise.
Paragon Space Development of Tuscon, Arizona, today announced that it will begin offering balloon rides to the edges of the earth's atmosphere in about three years.
The "World View" ride will take six passengers and two pilots in a pressurized gondola to an altitude of up to 98,4000 feet, which is about three times the height of a cruising airliner, but well below what is considered outer space.
At 19 miles high, passengers will see the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space above them. They'll see a similar view of what Felix Baumgartner experienced last year when he jumped from his gondola at 24 miles up.
Passengers will pay 75,0000 dollars for the two hour ascent and another two hours of viewing the heavens before plunging back to earth with the aid of a parachute. The fare is considerably less than the 250,000 dollar fare for a higher, sub-orbital flight aboard Virgin Galactic.
It promises to be a fantastic view, even though passengers will not feel weightlessness or be anywhere near the 62 mile high boundary of outer space.
The gondola and lift systems will be rigorously tested before being cleared for takeoff, as many hazards need to be overcome. At 19 miles up, the atmosphere is thin enough to boil blood if the craft losses pressure.
Paragon is experienced in such matters. The company develops life support systems for space craft and is taking a lead on the technical development of Dennis Tito's Mars mission to fly two astronauts to the red planet and back.
The craft will be regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a space launch vehicle even though it is not a rocket. Since passengers will be subject to the same hazards that astronauts face in a space environment, the FAA wants to make sure the pressurized "spacecraft" is safe for customers.