The Balloons That Soar to the Edge of Space


Few of us will know what it is like to venture into space. But balloons based on designs that paved the way to the stars may get us closer than ever. You gaze out the window and it’s a big window at the view outside.

You’re so far up that the ground below is a sweeping panorama devoid of all detail other than the most majestic broad rivers, mountains rising up from carpet like plains, the silver and shimmer of sprawling cities far below. The horizon is not straight; it curves at either end.

It is the sky that really looks different, however. It is not the deep navy that you usually gaze at while you wait for the in flight crew to offer you a choice of chicken or beef, here it is almost black. The stars, mostly invisible down on terra firma, sparkle in their many thousands.

It’s a view you have never seen before. This is no ordinary flight. As you gaze out of the giant window that looks like the business end of one of the TIE fighters from Star Wars, the Airbuses and Boeings are plying airline routes far below you.

This is one of World View Enterprises’s balloons, one that the company intends to take paying passengers as high as 32 kilometres above the Earth’s surface 20 miles, or 105,000ft.

These balloons are not yet a commercial concern. The company, based in Tucson, Arizona, has only carried out test flights so far. It hopes to have its first customers climb Inside its capsules next year.