This Balloon Will Send You into Space

Japan's Iwaya Giken Hopes to Launch Space Tourism Flights Later This Year

Image: Iwaya Giken

It's been a rough news cycle for balloons lately, but not all helium-powered vessels roam the skies for nefarious reasons.

Some just want to send you 15 miles above the earth, where you can hang out and see the sights for a few hours.

Iwaya Giken is a Japanese company that says it will launch space flights later this year. They've been working on the project since 2012, and it's finally ready to debut. Interested parties can apply online to be among the balloon's first passengers.

Space tourism has taken off in recent years, and a couple of well-publicized launches have sent billionaires into space. Iwaya Giken wants to democratize the trip by making it more accessible—and by cutting out the rocket entirely.

They're not the first to go the space balloon route, with other outfits including Space Perspective and World View. But Iwaya Giken is promising a significantly more intimate experience that'll see you boarding a small cabin alongside just one other person: the pilot.

Iwaya Giken space balloon
Your digs for the trip | Iwaya Giken

The cabin looks like one of those rolling vehicles from Jurassic Park. But in this case, it's where you'll sit for a few hours as the attached helium balloon ascends high into the sky.

According to the Associated Press, the balloon would take about two hours to rise to a height of 15 miles, where it would stay for about an hour so you can enjoy some time in the stratosphere and get a good view of the earth below. Then it's another one hour for the descent. No special skills or training are required, as the pilot will do all the work, and your only task is to sit there, take pictures, and marvel at how the earth looks from way, way up.

The first passengers will be announced in October, and flights will be scheduled for later in the year. Naturally, they won't be cheap, but the company's CEO hopes to reduce prices significantly in the future. Also, the balloon trips leave from Hokkaido, so you'll have to get yourself to Japan. 

But if you're planning a trip to space in a small round capsule, you can probably handle 14 hours in business class.

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