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Tucson company developing balloon flights to edge of space

PHOENIX — The race to space is underway as companies attempt to provide the first option for consumers to see earth from afar, and a company in Tucson says it’s well on its way to fulfilling that demand.

World View, based in Tucson, came one step closer to offering customers the opportunity to fly hundreds of thousands of feet above the surface of the earth after a successful test flight last week.

“It’s a very moving experience,” Taber MacCallum, the chief technology officer for World View said about photographs from the latest flight.

The test flight was a scaled down version of what will ultimately be World View’s unique way of flying civilians to the edge of space.

While companies such as Virgin Galactic and others have been working on rocket-based systems for space tourism, MacCallum said World View will instead use similar technology to weather balloons.

“It’s gentle, like the liftoff of a hot-air balloon,” he said.

Each flight would have six passengers and two crew members in a capsule attached to a balloon that would travel to altitude of roughly 100,000 feet. After floating around for a few hours, the capsule would eventually disconnect from the balloon and glide back to the earth’s surface using a parafoil, which is similar to a large parachute MacCallum said.

From a height of nearly 100,000 feet, MacCallum said passengers would experience incredible views of the earth below and give passengers a different experience than rocket-based projects.

“People really want to spend time looking at the curvature of the earth and they’re less interested in the rocket ride than one might thing,” MacCallum said.

He also said he believes the system would be a safer alternative to getting to such high altitudes.

“There’s very little energy,” he said. “We’re not flying supersonically through the air, there isn’t a big rocket that is propelling us.”

A seat aboard a World View flight costs $75,000 and MacCallum said the first dozen or so flights have already sold out.

World View is currently testing and developing its technology and hopes begin taking passengers on trips as early as the end of 2016, according to MacCallum.