LOS ANGELES, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- A U.S. firm says it wants to offer paying customers a chance to go to the edge of space suspended from a giant helium balloon, then glide safely back to Earth.
World View says a high-tech gondola suspended beneath the balloon will take six passengers and two crewmembers to 18 miles above the Earth's surface, high enough to reveal the curvature of the Earth and the atmosphere's blue glow against the deep black of space.
For $75,000, ticketed passengers will spend 2-1/2 hours at the edge of space in a fully pressurized gondola, then the gondola and its massive parachute wing will be released for a 40-minute glide back to Earth.
The experience will require technology on a grand scale, especially where the balloon is concerned, experts said.
"You have to imagine how big this balloon is," Jane Poynter, president of Paragon Space Development Corp., which is developing the World View balloon, told the Los Angeles Times. "Fully inflated, it's the size of a football field."
Paragon will test a small version of the balloon in the real world, Poynter said, then will initiate testing a full-scale model in early 2015.
World View has not selected a launch site, she said, but is looking at locations in the United States, concentrating on New Mexico and Arizona.