The final frontier – and the potential for new tourist hotspots – beckons yet again. In three years, Arizona-based company World View will be sending guests eight at a time into the stratosphere via balloon for a cool US$50,000 (S$67,650) each. The voyages last between six to 12 hours, most of which will be spent at an altitude of around 30.5km, firmly in the upper-middle portion of the stratosphere.
These voyages are designed to be accessible – both physically, and financially. The genteel ascent of a balloon, quite unlike the acceleration of traditional spacecraft, means that anyone can get into a World View capsule – which, naturally, comes with creature comforts like ergonomic, fully reclining chairs; panoramic viewing windows; in-flight dining; and a well-stocked bar to make the 12-hour sojourn in the stratosphere a little cosier.
On-board cameras will capture the entire experience, allowing you to focus on the experience of being in space, rather than getting it on tape (it might be hard to get a cellphone signal up there anyway). Powerful telescopes also provide guests the opportunity to make full use of the once-in-a-lifetime vantage point for some breathtaking, high-resolution snoopery vis-a-vis Earth or the stars above.
The entire experience will be structured around a five-day window to encourage guests to appreciate where they’re launching off from – not a nondescript spaceport, but Earth (hence the tagline Rediscover Earth). Seven launch sites that’ve been announced on the company’s website are situated around the world’s ancient and natural wonders – think the Great Wall of China, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and more. Practically, the five-day window also serves to give World View freedom in picking the best launch date.
And with over a hundred successful stratospheric flights under their belt – including Alan Eustace’s record-breaking freefall from an altitude of 41.4km – over seven years, they’ve got the safety chops and experience to make going to the edge of space as safe and easy as it’s going to be, at least in the upcoming decade.
Its space tourism contemporaries like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX (helmed by Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk respectively) are all racing to establish their corners in the billionaire-friendly niche that is space tourism.
The former two have their eyes on the suborbital market, where World View sits. Depending on who you ask, getting into orbit – and therefore space – means getting higher than 80km if you’re in the States, or above 100km anywhere else. Bezos’ Blue Origin has already breached the larger number, while Virgin Galactic remains at the 80km mark for now. The actual space time on these trips are also astronomically low – think anywhere from five to 15 minutes for now.
Though prices for Blue Origin’s tickets have yet to be revealed, you can expect them to be within throwing distance of Virgin Galactic’s initial ticket price of S$340,000 from 2014 (which will be going up when ticket sales reopen).
SpaceX, on the other hand, is untouchable. Four non-professional (read: private citizens) astronauts were sent all the way into orbit for three days. Though they’re keeping mum on the price tag, it costs National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) S$74 million to send a trained astronaut to space on a SpaceX craft, so you do the math.
This makes World View’s price tag a lot easier to swallow for casual, relatively well-heeled tourists looking to tick something off their bucket list. You won’t be among the first amateurs to get on the Moon, but you’ll be sipping champagne while floating through the Aurora Borealis, before gazing at Earth from a comfortable distance and for a comfortably long time. Good enough for a trip to space, we reckon.
For more on World View’s mission to rediscover Earth.