Another day, another space tourism venture announced-but this one caught our attention for being a little different from most. Rather than shooting travelers up in rockets, an American company says it’s planning to dangle space tourists in a capsule attached to a helium balloon.
World View Enterprises will use a helium balloon to slowly lift travelers up to the edge of space as they sit in a luxurious space capsule. After the ride is over, the capsule will detach from the helium balloon and float back down to Earth with the aid of a parachute. While that all sounds a little precarious, the company says balloons like this have been sent into space for decades and the whole process is actually quite low-risk.The helium balloon rides will take travelers up about 20 miles into the sky. Although that’s not technically space, which is around 60 miles up, travelers will still be in for a nice view that includes being able to see the curvature of the earth.
And if space travel has mostly sounded like the domain of the super rich so far, the good news is that the balloon space trip will be somewhat more affordable than the other options that have been proposed. A two-hour journey will set you back about $75,000, which is a fair deal cheaper than Virgin Galactic’s space flights that cost a quarter of a million dollars. Tickets for the World View space flights are expected to go on sale in a few months.
Taking another step toward space travel for all, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo lit its engine Monday, breaking the sound barrier high above California’s Mojave Air and Space port with billionaire Richard Branson on hand for the event.
“Today was the most significant day in the program,” Branson told NBC News. “I think that for those people who have been good enough to stick with us for the last eight years, who signed up early on, their time to become astronauts is very soon now … We’ll soon be able to make their dreams come true.”
Branson reportedly has 500 would-be space travelers signed up for the $200,000, two-hour flight that will include six minutes of weightlessness.
Confirming the flight and milestone accomplishment, Branson blogged:
“This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program. What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound. It marks the moment when we put together two key elements of our spaceflight system – the spacecraft and its rocket motor, which have both been tested extensively by themselves over several years – and start the phase of testing that will demonstrate our vehicle’s ability to go to space (hopefully later this year).”
On board the first flight with paying passengers will be Virgin frequent fliers, allowed to trade miles for a ride in space.
[Photo credit -MarsScientific.com and Clay Center Observatory]
Virgin America is dangling the possibility of Virgin Galactic space travel in front of its most frequent fliers and Elevate reward members with a new promotion.
The Elevate member who earns the most status points between August 8, 2012, and August 7, 2013, will earn the ultimate round-trip flight reward: a sub-orbital space flight on Virgin Galactic. This is part of a series of membership enhancements timed to coincide with the airline’s fifth anniversary.
“We’re excited to add these new benefits to Elevate in response to direct feedback from our members,” added Phil Seward, director of guest loyalty at Virgin America. “We do not have a traditional legacy airline product … Offering a space flight as the ultimate frequent flyer reward seemed a fitting way to recognize our most loyal guest.”
Space travel appears to have taken its toll on NASAastronauts. Those in space for more than a month have shown unexpected symptoms that could set back plans for longer deep-space missions.
Researchers scanned the eyes and brains of 27 astronauts who had spent an average of 108 days in space, either on space shuttle missions or aboard the International Space Station. In many of the astronauts, they found symptoms consistent with intracranial hypertension, a potentially serious condition that happens when pressure builds within the skull.
“NASA has placed this problem high on its list of human risks, has initiated a comprehensive program to study its mechanisms and implications, and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Dr. William Tarver, chief of the flight medicine clinic at NASA’s Johnson Space Center told Fox News in a recent article.
A symptom of excess cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic nerve was found in 33 percent of the astronauts and a flattening of the back of the eyeball was found in 20 percent.
“The MRI findings revealed various combinations of abnormalities following both short and long-term cumulative exposure to microgravity also seen with idiopathic intracranial hypertension,” said Professor Larry Kramer, lead author of the study.
Odds are the study will have no effect on Virgin Galactic‘s plan to begin suborbital commercial flights this year.
Banking frequent flyer miles, business travelers save for travel gear, clothing, sports and recreation equipment, personal vacations and more. Now, Virgin Galactic is allowing their frequent flyers to trade miles for a ride in space.
Virgin Galactic plans to send its first spacecraft, SpaceShip Two, on a suborbital space flight later this year. In a lottery, Virgin Galactic is allowing their Atlantic Flying Club members to redeem miles for a chance to win a trip on a the spaceflight.
According to the terms and conditions of the drawing, “Once Virgin Galactic launches it’s first flight to space, Flying Club will draw a winner from all the entries received.” You don’t need to have two million miles to register for the drawing, but you will need to have the miles in your account if your entry is selected as the winner.
The price tag: two million miles.Short on miles?
Virgin Galactic will allow members to buy up to 30,000 miles for $27. At that rate, a ride in space has a value of $54,000, not a bad price compared to the $63 million that the Russian space agency charges NASA for a ride to the international Space Station.