Despite the recent negative publicity generated by the crashing of the Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise, the concept of space travel as a holiday still remains a prominent one. With the best will in the world, it is impossible for flight to be completely without risk, and the unfortunate incident in October, 2014 which saw co-pilot Michael Alsbury pass away, has not dissuaded the next generation of space travellers from being enthused about it.
Balloon-based Space Tourism
Aside from the Virgin project, which remains ongoing, another organisation which is looking at space as a possible holiday destination is World View. This company is examining a unique way of developing space tourism, with the methodology reliant on huge helium balloons as opposed to rockets. This sounds like a rather unfeasible prospect, but it promises space travel without the often difficult effects of heavy G-force acceleration, while delivering a trip which is around five hours in duration.
The balloon in question is capable of transporting six passengers and crew members as high as twenty miles into the sky in a capsule. This is a great enough height in order for participants to view the curvature of the Earth, although it is forty miles below sub-orbital space. Having said that, tickets for the World View projects are significantly cheaper than those on Virgin Galactic, costing $75,000 per person as opposed to the $250,000 figure which Richard Branson's company demands.
Jane Poynter is very much the figurehead of this operation, and she is a face and name that that will be familiar to many people. Aside from television presenting, Poynter has also spent two years living in the sealed research lab Biosphere 2, and has also served a term as the president of Paragon Space Development Corporation. Here Poynter was involved with the development and manufacture of life-support systems for the forthcoming 2018 Inspiration Mars mission.
Thus, Poynter has an excellent grounding in this subject matter, and is understandably passionate about the notion of space tourism. Having been involved with commercial spaceflights throughout her career, Poynter is extremely keen to make outer space accessible to everyday people. She is of the opinion that balloon flight is considerably more comfortable than being propelled by rocket, and that it is also safer and less physically demanding. She also believes that it will open the door for many more people to be able to fly into space due to economic and logistical reasons.
2015 'Go Live'
According to Poynter, World View intends to have full-scale systems flying by the end of the year. These will be unmanned initially, but in practical terms these will be the balloon-based systems which ultimately fly people into space. The company continues to work on the capsule which will be utilised as part of this project, and anticipate that once testing has been completed that two hours of prime viewing of the Earth will be possible during spaceflights.
In the context of the Virgin Galactic incident, World View is naturally undertaking a significant amount of testing on their revolutionary system. Poynter notes that the technology utilised in the World View project has actually been available for quite some time, and is this pretty well understood. And it is said that this is incredibly safe and stable technology, and that the parafoil involved in the system is extremely robust. With a backup parafoil included as well, this should be very much a failsafe system, particularly as similar approaches are currently utilised in both private and small commercial planes.
While this is a commercial undertaking, it is obviously one from Poynter’s perspective which is driven by a real passion for space. She speaks of the “majesty of the solar system”, and is clearly extremely passionate about giving people from all walks of life the opportunity to experience the universe, the stars and the extraordinary planet on which we all reside.
Space Travel Cost to Come Down
Of course, $75,000 per ticket is still out of the price range of many people. But Poynter envisages the price coming down eventually, and states that World View is working hard to achieve this goal. She states that every company involved in space tourism has a fundamental goal of achieving affordable space travel, but states that this may take some time. However, it certainly appears that affordable space travel could be accessible for everyday people at some point in the foreseeable future.
It is interesting to note that although we may have a tendency to place all space travel systems under one umbrella, Poynter perceives World View as not directly in competition with other rocket-based systems. She asserts that the World View balloon experience is completely unique; a gentle experience which will be suitable for children and families.
Science-fiction has long since predicted a future in which people travel through space on a regular basis. The human race hasn't quite reached that point yet, but with projects such as World View working hard to achieve stable space travel for commercial flights, space tourism should become a viable prospect in very due course.
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