Visit the Stratosphere — For Only $75,000

Is it really “space?” Who cares? It’s a bargain.

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Artist’s conception of the scenery from World View’s “space capsule.” World View

Suddenly, the “edge of space” is a hot destination.

No sooner had a documentary on Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile-high leap last year come out (you can watch on the web) when a Tucson-based startup, World View, announced plans to take tourists up to the stratosphere starting in 2015.  No jumping, though — just sightseeing, from a pressurized capsule hanging from a balloon. Ticket price: $75,000.

The plan, according to a letter from the FAA to Paragon Space Development Corp., the company behind the venture, is for a capsule carrying eight passengers to ascend from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Once they reach an altitude of 18.6 miles, high enough to see black sky and the curvature of Earth, the tourists will float there for two to six hours. The World View video shows lots of big windows for looking out.

In its communication with the FAA, Paragon called its passenger vehicle a “space capsule,” and generally seems keen to use the term “space” in describing the project. Purists might argue. Bear in mind that the balloon will reach less than one-tenth the altitude of the space station. But the experiences we generally lump together as “space tourism” are starting to come in different flavors, each with its pros and cons. For roughly the same price — $95,000 — you can book a ride on the Lynx spaceplane, which will go much higher (200 miles), but on a ride that lasts minutes instead of hours.

Meanwhile, the Perlan Project hopes to crowd-fund their idea to fly scientists up to the stratosphere in gliders to do research. They must be tired of watching their balloon-borne instruments have all the fun.

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