ANALYSIS – Until now, only billionaires could afford to enter sub-orbital space. And it needed to be by high-powered rocket (think Jeff Bezos in his Blue Origin, or Richard Branson in his Virgin Galactic).
Star Trek actor William Shatner also did a flight on a Blue Origin’s rocket.
But now you too can see the earth from 20 miles high. It will cost you just over $120,000 and it’s by a high-altitude balloon.
And, no, it’s not aboard a Chinese spy balloon. These will be private companies running the trips.
The billionaires in rockets still have one treat we can’t get – they can briefly experience weightlessness. They also go twice as high.
Space officially starts at the Karman line, 62 miles above the earth’s surface. But for most people there won’t be that much of a difference.
And at half the price, no training required, and a much softer, smoother ride, these edge-of-space balloons will be far more accessible and may become popular among the slightly less rich.
And unlike the rockets, these balloons will give you a much longer ride, with luxury amenities, food, and drink.
There now appears at least two companies on the verge of launching these space balloon trips. One is American and the other is French.
Both seem to avoid mention of the 1937 Hindenburg hydrogen-filled dirigible disaster.
The French company Zephalto with its Celeste balloon will provide Michelin-starred fine dining. It is partnered with France’s national space agency.
These balloons filled with helium or hydrogen will depart from France with two pilots on board and six passengers and rise 15.5 miles into the stratosphere.
Once at peak altitude, the balloon, carrying a pressurized capsule, will stay aloft for three hours, giving guests a chance to take in views previously seen only by astronauts. While in the air, passengers will be served high-end French food and wines.
These near-space rides will start at €120,000 ($132,000) per person in 2025, Bloomberg reports.
The other option will be Florida-based Space Perspective, which is testing its own passenger balloon, designed to reach the edge of space.
Eight civilians and a pilot will be able to comfortably travel up 100,000 feet (19 miles) to near space in a reusable pressurized capsule carried by a gigantic hydrogen-filled balloon called Spacecraft Neptune – because Neptune’s atmosphere is predominantly hydrogen.
The company operates out of leased facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but plans to expand to Alaska and Hawaii, and then possibly to other countries around the world.
Flight will cost about $125,000 per person. And it plans to launch a year earlier than the Celeste.
Neptune’s ride will be similar to the Zephalto balloons, ascending at a sedate 12.5 miles per hour. It will give passengers two full hours to observe 360° views of Earth rotating beneath them and space above.
The overall ride will last six hours – two hours to ascend, two hours to float along the stratosphere, and two hours to descend into the Atlantic Ocean, where a recovery ship will be waiting.
The capsule comes complete with luxury seating, refreshments, a restroom, and Wi-Fi (so you can post to Instagram or live stream on Facebook as you fly – because – of course). The company plans to offer flights for weddings, corporate events, and scientific excursions.
Its flights are scheduled to begin in 2024, but the first batch of 600 tickets is already sold out.
Bon voyage. No smoking aboard.
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