A balloon ride into near-space, price tag $75,000

A Lego man has done it. A Hello Kitty toy has done it. And now a company called World View wants actual human beings to do it too.

What's "it"? Taking a helium balloon to near space, of course!


In as little as four years you may be able to ride aboard a massive helium balloon that will float more than 18 miles above Earth's surface.

You can see pictures of the balloon and its high-tech gondola in the photo gallery above.

While that altitude does not qualify as true outer space, it is still high enough for a person to look down on the curvature of the Earth, and to see our planet's blue atmosphere glow against the deep black backdrop of space.

Unfortunately, the World View balloon trips will not be cheap. Estimated ticket cost is $75,000.

Why so expensive?

"You have to imagine how big this balloon is," said Jane Poynter, president of Paragon Space Development Corp., which is developing the technology for the World View balloon. "Fully inflated, it's the size of a football field."

And the gondola beneath the balloon needs to be fully pressurized and capable of protecting passengers from the vacuum, radiation and extreme temperatures of near space.

For now, the plan is for each balloon ride to accommodate eight people -- two crew members and six passengers. The ride to the edge of our planet would take about an hour and a half, said Poynter. Passengers would enjoy a 2 1/2-hour float above Earth, and then glide back down to land in the span of 20 to 40 minutes. (You can see a video of what the flight might look like here.)

Passengers will not need any special training in order to enjoy the ride. "Our goal is to have this be really simple, so you wouldn't need more than a briefing before coming aboard," said Poynter. "We want this to be really accessible."

Paragon has already put the main components of the balloon through tests in special chambers that recreate the space environment. The next step is to test a small version of the balloon in the real world. If everything goes according to plan, Paragon could start testing a full-scale model in early 2015.

World View has not decided where the balloon to space will launch from, but Poynter said they are looking at locations in the United States, specifically in New Mexico and Arizona.

"Page, Ariz., has great weather for launching and an incredible view of the Grand Canyon," she said.

Sounds nice. If only $75,000 weren't so hard to come by. In the meantime, we can all live vicariously through the Lego man.

For more stories on all kinds of space exploration, follow me on Twitter.