By the end of next year, wealthy travelers with six hours to kill will begin floating up to the edge of space and drinking in views like those seen by few others before them. The curvature of Earth, the infinite darkness of space, the sun peeking over the planet — these are the sights afforded to those sitting 100,000 feet above the ground.
A helium-filled balloon designed by Arizona-based company World View will carry them to this lofty perch. For $75,000 each, or a third of the price of a Virgin Galactic ticket, six passengers will join two crew members in a “beautifully appointed space-qualified capsule.” Their journey will take about six hours — two to ascend, two to cruise, and two to descend. On the way down, pilots will shed the helium balloon and guide the pressurized capsule to the ground with the help of a parafoil. If the unprecedented panoramas start to get old while hovering nearly 20 miles above Earth, World View promises onboard Wi-Fi and a mini-bar for drunk tweeting about the excursion.
World View is currently conducting tests with scaled-down versions of the final balloon, which is how it got the footage featured in the above video. But the company says there are few barriers standing in the way of successful commercial flights. Passengers will not have any training and the FAA has given preliminary approval. All the company needs now are passengers. A few weeks ago, NBC News reported that “dozens of people already have signed up.”