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A Spanish entrepreneur wants to give you a glimpse of the black expanse of space and the curvature of the earth from a most unusual vantage point — a balloon.
José Mariano López-Urdiales, the founder of zero2infinity, is offering what he calls the “near-space” experience of viewing the planet and the space beyond it from 36 km [22 miles] above the earth. He hopes to have the first passengers aloft in the near-space vehicle called a “bloon” —
That altitude is a long ways from the height of more than 100 km promised by Virgin Galactic and others developing suborbital space tourism vehicles. But López-Urdiales argues the 100-km definition of space is somewhat arbitrary and the view from 36 km offers essentially the same viewing experience as higher altitudes. The bright sun is surrounded by a black sky. The curvature of the earth is clearly visible, highlighted by the electric blue of the atmosphere just above the horizon. López-Urdiales says people were enjoying this view long before there were rockets.
The balloon will spend a few hours rising to a cruising altitude of around 36 km, where the sail will be 129 meters [423 feet] in diameter. Why 36 km? Because at that height you can see the blackness of space and the curvature of the earth. López-Urdiales likes to point out there isn’t actually a line dividing the atmosphere and space. The United States long defined space as beginning at 50 miles [80km]. Today it is defined by most as beginning at 100 km, at what is called the Kármán Line. López-Urdiales notes it is no coincidence the definition is framed by our system of counting by tens because we have ten fingers.
Since May 2008 we have been working full time to reach our goal of launching ourselves into space and to show the world that human space flight is possible without major government budgets and administration.