A company that plans to send tourists to near-space by balloon has just completed its first commercial flight.
The Arizona-based company World View lofted two payloads during an umanned balloon flight Sunday (March 8) from southeastern Arizona. The mission was part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate's Flight Opportunities Program, which flies experiments designed by students, educators and researchers.
"World View is committed to furthering stratospheric exploration and research," Taber MacCallum, World View's chief technology officer, said in a statement. "Our first flight as a NASA flight service provider marks the launch of our commercial efforts to aid research and education by providing a new way for NASA and others to access near-space."
One of the experiments measured the properties of cosmic rays, which are believed to emanate from supernova explosions. The payload was developed by 18 undergraduate students and three faculty members at Gannon University in Pennsylvania.
The second experiment, known as the Planetary Atmospheres Minor Species Sensor, is designed to measure the distribution of gases in the air of Earth and other worlds. It was designed by students from the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida.
"Many types of space applications and research need more access to near-space than has been possible previously," World View chief scientist Alan Stern, who is also principal investigator of NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons mission, said in the same statement..
"With this flight," Stern added, "World View illustrates its ability to provide expanded access to the near-space environment for NASA, private corporations and universities."
In February, Arizona-based World View announced it had broken the world altitude record for a parafoil flight. The altitude of 102,200 feet (31,151 meters) is the same that officials hope to reach when they loft passengers, officials added.
World View's passenger flights would cost $75,000 per person and would soar high enough for passengers to see black sky and the curvature of the Earth. Last year, the organization said it plans to offer these flights starting in 2016.