Companies like Virgin Galactic are working on rockets to blast adventurous tourists 60 miles into outer space. Now the Wall Street Journal notes another venture in the works that intends to send people up to lesser heights using a massive (think football-field-sized) helium-filled balloon instead. For $75,000 apiece, eight passengers would reach an altitude of about 18 miles, which would take them to the edge of Earth's atmosphere. If all goes well, Paragon Space Development Corp. could launch its first balloon from New Mexico in 2016.
Those on board wouldn't have to wear space suits or oxygen masks, thanks to a protective gondola. Trips would last as long as six hours; to return to Earth, the balloon would detach, and on-board pilots would guide the gondola down using an overhead parafoil. "You can be sitting up there having your beverage of choice watching this extraordinary spectacle of the Earth below you and the blackness of space,” Paragon president Jane Poynter tells Discovery News. Sounds nice, but does 18 miles qualify as outer space? The FAA, in approving the concept, opted not to address that "more difficult question."