Just like some envisioned in the late 1800s, in the near future, you could be taking a trip to the edge of Earth’s orbit in a giant balloon. People have easily and cheaply sent cell phones into near space on a balloon, so why not people?
José Mariano López-Urdiales, the founder of zero2infinity, is offering what he calls the “near-space” experience of viewing the planet and the space beyond it from 36 km [22 miles] above the earth. He hopes to have the first passengers aloft in the near-space vehicle called a “bloon” — the company doesn’t appear to be big on capital letters — by the middle of this decade.
That altitude is a long ways from the height of more than 100 km promised by Virgin Galactic and others developing suborbital space tourism vehicles. But López-Urdiales argues the 100-km definition of space is somewhat arbitrary and the view from 36 km offers essentially the same viewing experience as higher altitudes. The bright sun is surrounded by a black sky. The curvature of the earth is clearly visible, highlighted by the electric blue of the atmosphere just above the horizon. López-Urdiales says people were enjoying this view long before there were rockets.
“The first people who described the earth as a blue ball were not in rockets,” he says. “They were flying in balloons.”
The great appeal of zero2infinity’s concept is that you’ll enjoy the view for a couple of hours, as opposed to the handful of minutes you’ll experience flying beyond the atmosphere in a rocket. And without the rumble of a rocket, the ride will be serene.
“A balloon stays for a longer time than a ballistic parabola,” López-Urdiales notes. “A suborbital vehicle is limited by the laws of ballistics and only lasts a few minutes. It can only last so long where the sky is black and the view is beautiful.”
Passengers aboard the bloon “near-space ship” will spend five to six hours on their journey, including two hours at cruise altitude with the blackness of space above them and the curvature of the earth below.