Tuesday, August 16, 2011

High altitude balloon tourism

"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.”"


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