World View balloon spacecraft aims to take space tourism to new heights
It is often said that space is the next frontier, at least when it comes to discovering new places and information. Most of us, however, still have a lot to learn about our own planet, especially since we rarely see Earth from a different perspective. Space, at least those few hundred miles beyond our atmosphere, provides that perfect vantage point that will hopefully give us a different and better perspective of our home, both literally and figuratively. It’s the kind of life-changing experience that nascent space tourism promises, and one company is trying to promote a different type of experience that’s meant to be enjoyed in a relaxing way rather than the thrilling adventure like Blue Origin, SpaceX , or Virgin Galactic want to give.
When you hear the phrase “space tourism”, you most likely imagine journeys beyond our atmosphere in typical spacecraft like rockets. Indeed, for companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, it’s the most conventional way to reach the skies. Virgin Galactic, on the other hand, is taking the runway less traveled with a spacecraft that takes off like an airplane, reducing the need for expensive and risky rocket launches.
These space travel experiences, however, offer only a brief glimpse of the world below them, lasting only a few minutes or an hour or two at most. They offer weightlessness, technically microgravity, experiences that often fill our imaginations and fulfill childhood dreams of becoming astronauts. These brief exhilarating moments might be enough for an adventure of a lifetime, but they’re not the only way to enjoy space or our planet at this altitude.
Like a hot air balloon flight, World View promises a more subdued experience but just as pleasant, especially since it lasts 6 to 12 hours. The balloon spacecraft ‘launches’ just before dawn so tourists can view the sunrise 30,000 meters above the Earth’s surface, just high enough to see the curvature of the planet divide the Earth and the ‘space. After hovering for hours, the spacecraft slowly descends to solid ground, gently and safely guided by parafoils.
The “tour” does not include this period of weightlessness because the cabin is pressurized and air-conditioned, favoring comfort over thrills. The spacious area can accommodate eight passengers and two professional crew members and features amenities such as in-flight meals, a bar and reclining seats. Oversized windows give passengers a nearly unobstructed view, while Earth-pointing cameras allow them to zoom in on surface detail.
Carried only by helium, World View’s balloons could offer a more sustainable alternative to rockets that still use precious fuel to launch. Intended to be part of more luxurious and relaxed activities like team building exercises or retreats, this type of spacecraft and launch technology truly offers a different perspective on space tourism, one that passengers will be able to savor for hours to get their money’s worth.