World View Enterprises wants to send space tourists into the stratosphere — not with the jolt of a rocket, but, gently, with a balloon.
The fledgling Arizona-based company released a spectacular video of a sunrise from the stratosphere captured from a recent unmanned commercial payload flight, offering a glimpse at the vistas future customers might experience during a sunrise voyage.
World View launched its first unmanned test flight in June, using a scaled down version of its high-altitude balloon system. But by 2016, the company hopes to begin flying paying passengers inside a pressurized capsule up to an altitude of about 100,000 feet (30,500 meters). [World View's Amazing Balloon Rides in Pictures]
World View's "Voyagers" won't experience the thrill of a rocket launch, and they won't travel high enough to experience zero gravity. But for $75,000, the company has promised a "gentle, comfortable and life-changing travel experience."
Passengers will have access to Wi-Fi and a bar during their one- to two-hour glide. But World View executives think the most important thing they can offer is a change in perspective, something like the "overview effect" astronauts experience during spaceflight.
"Part of our goal with World View is to provide a perspective-changing view of our world," CEO Jane Poynter said in a statement. "Our Voyagers will witness our Earth suspended in the inky blackness of space, then see it illuminated by a stunning sunrise. So many astronauts have gone to space to see infinity, but when they turn around and see Earth they fall in love with it. It shifts the way they think about things and we want to give that experience to as many people as possible."
Poynter got her longtime friend and former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly onboard with the project. Kelly, who is World View's director of flight operations (and the husband of former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), said seeing the sun climb over the Earth is "one of the most spectacular experiences possible."
"During my time in space I saw countless sunrises over Earth, but I will never cease to be amazed by the sight," Kelly said in a statement.
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Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity on a Zero Gravity Corp. to follow students sparking weightless fires for science. Follow her on Twitter for her latest project.