Record-Breaking Balloon Flight

Could mean high-flying space tourism by 2016

World View's parafoil safely floated their test vehicle from a height of 120,000 feet. "We were really surprised with how well it flew," chief technology officer Taber MacCallum said. (World View)

Somewhere between the mild thrill of taking off in your average airplane and becoming rich and famous enough to shell out for spaceflight with Virgin Galactic, World View Enterprises plans to offer the option of floating into the stratosphere attached to a balloon. Now the company is one step closer to making that a reality. After a record-breaking test flight on Tuesday, World View believes it will be able to bring tourists 20 miles above Earth for some pretty amazing views by 2016.

The Arizona-based space tourism company conducted a small-scale flight using a parafoil, which is similar to what Felix Baumgartner used for his own record-breaking space jump. The canopy-like parachute carried a small refrigerator-sized vehicle 120,000 feet above Roswell, New Mexico. That's the highest parafoil flight ever. The test vehicle's size is only 10 percent of what World View would like its tourism pod to be—the aim is to allow people to walk around the pod during a two-hour flight. But "on the balloon side, it's pretty scalable," said chief technology officer Taber MacCallum.

The price tag for a World View flight is predictably steep: $75,000 per person, but what a bargain compared with Virgin Galactic's $200,000 fee. World View's pods could be filled with people sooner than other space tourism ventures, though World View CEO Jane Poynter is quick to note, "I don't think anyone considers us in a race." As the Associated Press notes, Virgin Galactic's target launch date is the end of this year, "but it has said that for each of the last several years."

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