In the past, space travel was reserved for humanity’s best and brightest. You had to be an engineer, mathematician, or scientist before ever donning a spacesuit. But with the recent rash of millionaires and billionaires treating outer space like a vacation destination, the idea of “democratizing space” is starting to take hold in our collective consciousness. What if you could experience the wonders of outer space without needing advanced degrees or a vault full of money?
Iwaya Giken, a Japanese startup, is striving to make space travel accessible to everyone. According to the Associated Press, the company recently unveiled an airtight viewing balloon which will allow two passengers to reach altitudes of 25 kilometers or 15 miles. No, passengers won’t leave Earth’s atmosphere, but they will be high enough to see the curve of the Earth and have a breathtaking view of space from the safety of the balloon. This experience, however, won’t come cheap. While the company hopes to lower prices in the future, flights currently cost 24 million yen or $180,000.
Japan Froward highlighted Iwaya Giken last August after the company used a hamster to test a prototype. According to the article, the viewing balloon could function like this: “The plastic balloon will be filled with enough helium gas to lift people. Passengers enter the cabin, which can withstand changes in atmospheric pressure, such as in a vacuum environment, and slowly ascend with the buoyancy of the gas to reach the stratosphere at an altitude of about 25 km. After viewing the Earth and outer space below, they will descend slowly back to the ground.”
Iwaya Giken isn’t the only company developing balloon rides in the stratosphere. Gizmodo reports that World View Enterprises and Space Perspective are also developing similar experiences, with costs ranging from $50,000 to $125,000 per person.