New Space Tourism Option -- High-Altitude Balloons

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A new company this week announced its plans to offer high-altitude rides to about 98,425 feet in a pressurized capsule suspended beneath a helium balloon, for $75,000 per seat. The company, World View Experience, is based in Tucson, Ariz., and plans to launch the flights from Spaceport America, in New Mexico, no sooner than 2016. The capsule would carry up to six passengers and two pilots high enough to view the curvature of the Earth and the black sky of space. The ascent will take about two hours, and the travelers can then spend about two hours at altitude. To return to Earth, the capsule separates from the balloon and lands a half-hour later beneath a steerable parafoil.

In its proposal to the FAA, Paragon Space Development Corp. says it has two decades of experience building life support and other systems for manned space missions, including the International Space Station. Occupants of the capsule won't need spacesuits, and can "sip a beverage of [their] choice" while enjoying "the luxurious comfort and gentle glide" of the space vessel, according to the company's website. Component testing is already in progress, the company said, and flight testing of subscale components will begin soon. The system can also be used for research and education.