Company to Balloon Tourists to the Edge of Space

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If the thought of a rocket ride to space -- or the $250,000 price tag to get there -- leaves you feeling queasy, an Arizona firm thinks it has a gentler, less expensive alternative.

Kasey-Dee Gardner sits down with one of Virgin Galactic's maiden space travelers and finds out his three biggest fears about this sub-orbital spaceflight.
Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

World View, an offshoot of privately owned Paragon Space Development Corp., is developing a balloon-launched, near-space ride for $75,000 -- less than one-third the current cost to fly on Virgin Galactic's suborbital SpaceShipTwo.

World View passengers will soar to an altitude of about 30 kilometers (about 100,000 feet) -- far short of SpaceShipTwo’s intended 110-kilometer (68-mile) high peak. Inside the capsule there will be little sensation of microgravity. Rather, the whole point of the ride is the view.

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“You can be sitting up there having your beverage of choice watching this extraordinary spectacle of the Earth below you and the blackness of space,” project co-founder and Paragon president Jane Poynter told Discovery News.

“It really is very gentle. You can be up at altitude for hours, for days for research if you need to be... I think we have the opportunity to give a really, really incredible experience to people -- and for a lot less than most of what’s out on the market right now,” she said.

World View expects to begin selling tickets within a few months.

Company officials decided to unveil the project early because of a forthcoming, public determination by the Federal Aviation Administration that Paragon’s six-passenger, two-pilot vehicle qualifies as a spacecraft.

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“At Paragon’s intended altitude, water and blood boil, and an unprotected person would rapidly experience fatal decompression,” wrote the FAA, which oversees commercial spaceflight in the United States.

“Regardless of whether 30 kilometers constitutes outer space -- and the FAA renders no opinion on that questions -- a person would experience the same physiological responses at 30 kilometers as if exposed to the environment of low-Earth orbit. Thus, Paragon’s capsule will need to be space-qualified,” the FAA said.

The company expects to launch World View rides at several locations through the United States and eventually throughout the world. Poynter and project co-founder Taber MacCallum declined to identify an initial base of operations, but the FAA documents show the firm eying Spaceport America, located north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, for its first flights. Virgin Galactic is Spaceport America’s anchor tenant.

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Rather than the airplane tow and rocket boost that will send Virgin Galactic’s passengers beyond the atmosphere for a few minutes of weightlessness and sight-seeing, World View capsules will be propelled into the sky by giant helium balloons.

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