You may soon have a less expensive way to get into space. A new space tourism venture plans to bring visitors 30 km (about 100,000 feet) into the stratosphere in what is essentially a space-ready air balloon for $75,000. The capsule won't technically be in space — and that's not high enough to enter orbit and achieve the sensation of "weightlessness" — but there should be a wonderful view of the curvature of the Earth, the blue atmosphere around it, and the dark void beyond. Those joining in on the trip won't have to undergo training, and they'll spend two hours up at that height, where they'll be free to stand and walk about the cabin. Trips could start as soon as 2016.
The new project comes from World View, a subsidiary of Paragon, which makes equipment for the International Space Station and other space applications. Paragon is also the company behind an ambitious plan to send astronauts to Mars by 2018. World View itself isn't a rocket — it is a pressurized, four-ton capsule that can hold up to eight passengers, according to The Wall Street Journal. A helium-filled, high altitude balloon will carry the capsule to its maximum height. Few details are available, as World View has to go through plenty of regulatory and testing hurdles before becoming a reality, but the project is not so different from Felix Baumgartner's trip in the Red Bull Stratos last year, which took the skydiver to a height of 128,000 feet. Instead of having passengers jump out of the capsule like Baumgartner, however, the World View itself will be piloted down to a predetermined landing spot using a parafoil.
The plan joins a number of other privately funded space tourism projects, the most well-known of which is Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which charges $250,000 per head and sends passengers over 100 km — allowing them to experience "weightlessness." The first flight is planned for sometime next year. Another private space flight company, called XCOR, has its first flight to 65 km set for next year as well. Both use rockets to propel the ships into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and are therefore able to achieve much greater heights than the World View.