Commercial space flight has gone from a good idea to a reality in a decade and space tourism looks like it could go rich-people mainstream in the next ten years. But with all the inconveniences of rocket travel, won't luxury travelers want a more comfortable way to visit the final frontier? Jane Poynter thinks so. A veteran of Biosphere 2 and entrepreneur, Poynter is the CEO of World View, the Arizona outfit that helped Google exec Alan Eustace break Felix Baumgartner's much-hyped space jump record by 8,000 feet last year, and she wants to help the masses (or a subset of the masses anyway) go to space in the chillest way possible – by floating. Poynter sees balloon space travel as a safer, more relaxing option. Think of it as vertical sailing.
“I’ve been in the business of commercial space flight for nearly 30 years, all that time we’ve been talking about making space accessible, and it’s always coming and coming and it’s not quite here,” Poynter told MAXIM. “I’ve been involved in spacecraft and rocket-based flight, and as cool and as exciting as it is, it’s really difficult to make that accessible to everyone just because of the safety, the training, and the medical requirements. So, when we came across the idea of a balloon, it just seemed like such an amazing way to be able to take people up to space and so gentle and so much safer.”
Indeed, prospective space tourists need not remind themselves of the unpredictability of rockets, or the chance that a faulty cable could bring their dream vacation (and life) to a fiery conclusion. Poynter wants to sell an experience that's less The Right Stuff and more Captain Ron. By hooking a balloon to a luxurious capsule, World View allows voyagers to ride relative density to the best lookout this side of orbit.
“The image I have is that you get up really early in the morning, it’s a brisk morning and you get inside a pitch-black capsule. In your hand is your beverage of choice and off you go,” Poynter said. “You lift gently off the ground and you literally glide up through the atmosphere for an hour and a half. It’s incredibly smooth and gentle and you get up there and you hang out at the very top of the atmosphere for a few hours, looking out through these enormous windows at this extraordinary panorama below and for us, it’s all about making it as comfortable as possible.”
At about 20 miles high, tourists would be able to see most of America while helping themselves to whatever happens to be behind the open bar. On the way back down, a pilot would steer the capsule using a parafoil, a parachute that acts like a set of wing as the capsule gently glides down.
Over the next year, World View will be working on the aerodynamics system that will help get the capsule to the edge of space. After that, the company will build and perfect capsule. Poynter says the company has already received a large number of reservations, including customers who have reserved the entire capsule for themselves. The cost of a ticket to space on a balloon is $75,000, but you can reserve a spot right now for $7500.
“There is such a thing as the 20-mile high club,” Poynter adds. She's a hell of a saleswoman.
Photos by Courtesy One World