From Tucson to space; local company aims for the stars - Tucson News Now

From Tucson to space; local company aims for the stars

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Artist's concept of a World View balloon at the edge of space. (Credit: World View) Artist's concept of a World View balloon at the edge of space. (Credit: World View)
Artist's concept of a World View balloon at the edge of space. (Credit: World View) Artist's concept of a World View balloon at the edge of space. (Credit: World View)
Artist's concept of a World View space capsule, carried under the balloon, at launch site. (Credit: World View) Artist's concept of a World View space capsule, carried under the balloon, at launch site. (Credit: World View)

Development is underway and reservations are being taken for a flight that's out of this world. Tucson-based Paragon Space Development is building a space capsule and high-altitude balloon that will take passengers high above planet earth for a trip into space.

"You'll see the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space," says Jane Poynter, CEO of World View Enterprises, another locally based company specializing in near-space tourism travel. Poynter enthusiastically describes what passengers will experience, "imagine seeing the sunrise, you're above all the atmosphere and you see at terminus, where night and day meet. You see that move across the earth below you. It's going to be amazing."

World View and Paragon are working on the collaborative effort by designing, building, testing, then sending a spacecraft to an altitude of 100,000 feet. That's nearly 19 miles above earth. It's not your typical hot air balloon. It's a whole other level of technology but uses the same basic concept. When the massive balloon is fully inflated, and rising to the edge of space, it's the size of a football stadium.

Poynter says it can be a life-changing event, "when people go up there and they actually see the earth in the blackness of space, hanging there suspended, I think it has to change the way you think about the planet we live on."

To help get this project off the ground is former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, "Paragon has been a company that's been in Tucson almost 20 years and this will be another Tucson, at least initially for development of the spacecraft, a Tucson based company so it's great for the city, it's great for the state. We're looking at launching from Page, Arizona so it's a good thing for Arizona."

Kelly says they haven't decided on whether or not he'll will sit behind the controls of the spacecraft, "I could be," but for now he's overseeing the flight crew operations.

It's a flight like no other. Virgin Galactic is offering rides in a rocket powered trip to space for $250,000. The cost of the balloon capsule is $75,000 for a 4 1/2 hour ride. Without the roar of the rocket, Kelly says, it will be a much more tranquil and comfortable experience, nothing like the thunderous blast offs he experienced at NASA, "from my experience, flying in space four times, by far the four most exciting things I've ever done in my life."

Kelly says this kind of technology, using high-altitude balloons, has been around for decades, "Our country has a long history in high-altitude balloons so there's a lot of research that's been done there, a lot of development of hardware. We're going to do something different, that we're going to bring up 6 passengers and 2 crew members to an altitude that only six individuals have been to in a helium balloon or in a balloon period."

Meaning you could go where few have gone before, if you can afford the price.

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Copyright 2013. Tucson News Now. All Rights Reserved.

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