It’s a dream of many to visit the great wide vacuum that is outer space—but getting there can be pretty intense. You know, like the part where you have to strap yourself into a 60-ton rocket accelerating upward at 18,000 miles per hour.
Well instead of hurtling violently into the stratosphere, what if you could gently levitate there instead? That’s the idea behind World View, a private company that wants to send tourists to the brink of space using a giant balloon. While the idea seems somewhat absurd, the company is making big strides in turning their vision into reality. On Friday, World View conducted a successful test flight (or float?) of a high-altitude balloon attached to a parafoil, sending it up to 102,200 feet. That’s higher than any parafoil—which is like a really aerodynamic parachute—has gone before.
The altitude is significant because that’s how high World View wants to send customers someday. At that height, tourists will be at the very edge of space, able to see the curvature of the Earth and a black, foreboding sky above. This particular test flight didn’t have any passengers, but it did carry experimental technologies from two universities. Montana State University provided a super durable computer system, as well as a high-definition video link, while the University of North Florida sent up a technology that measures the stratosphere’s ozone gas.
At 102,000 feet, tourists will be able to see the curvature of the Earth and a black, foreboding sky above.
"The successful flight of the parafoil at this altitude brings us closer to flying private citizens safely to the edge of space and also allows us to continue our research and education program by providing safe access to the near-space environment,” Taber MacCallum, World View’s Chief Technology Officer, said in a press release. The company also used the test flight as an opportunity to announce a new partnership with United Parachute Technologies, the company that will be providing the parafoils for future manned and unmanned trips.
World View hopes to send up the balloon-parafoil combo, with tourists riding along in a crew capsule that dangles below, starting in 2016. The giant balloon will do the heavy lifting at first, getting the passengers up to the intended height. Then after some extreme sight seeing, the balloon will detach and the parafoil will ease the crew gently down to the Earth’s surface. The whole trip will run each passenger a cool $75,000.
Check out photos from the test flight below: