Balloon ride to space
New profile pic. | Space Perspective
New profile pic. | Space Perspective

Here's What a Balloon Ride to Space Looks Like

Float to the edge of space with cocktails, Wi-Fi, and a hell of a toilet view.

While Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson lay the groundwork for a future of space tourism, somebody might've already beaten them to the punch. A company called Space Perspective has come up with a concept that's remarkable in its simplicity: a balloon ride to the outer reaches of the atmosphere that's rocket-free with minimal training and no tummy-twisting g-forces to worry about.

"Our team really worked hard to completely reimagine a space flight experience," says Space Perspective Co-CEO Jane Poynter, who is now revealing what a flight on board her company's pressurized, climate-controlled passenger capsule, Spaceship Neptune, will look like.

Space tourism
You gotta put a lot of trust in this balloon. | Space Perspective

Think of it as a lounge—a "Space Lounge" officially—where you can recline in comfortable chairs or stand up and walk around a room decorated with floor lamps, plants, a telescope, and interactive digital screens. It's a flexible space, large enough for eight passengers and a pilot, that's adaptable for weddings or special event dinners. All of it is surrounded by the largest windows ever used in a space vehicle. You can even check out the views from the bathroom.

Spaceship Neptune will also be equipped with Wi-Fi. So feel free to stream the entire trip and post selfies to social media in real time. Actually, don't worry about selfies. Space Perspective is working on a way to snap photos of the passengers from outside the capsule.

The dark interior, illuminated with customizable LED mood lighting, isn't just stylish. It's also practical—and a far cry from the usual science-fiction depictions of space travel. "You normally think of white interiors—very utilitarian and stark—but that's the last thing you want with so much light coming in," says Poynter, noting the darkness absorbs the sunlight and reduces glare on the windows.

Space Perspective
Can I keep the space blanket? | Photo courtesy of Space Perspective

And you can't have a lounge without cocktails. David Grutman, the Miami hospitality guru behind restaurants like Komodo and nightclubs like LIV, was enlisted to help shape the overall experience. And yes, that includes a bar. So can you just walk up and order an Old Fashioned or Gin and Tonic? Well, kinda. The bar won't be fully stocked, but will include passenger preferences determined in advance, so it's more like in-flight catering. Drinks are served in elevated glassware with fresh herbs as garnish. And since the flight begins early in the morning, you'll probably want some tea and coffee on standby along with food.

Passengers will arrive a few days before the flight to get prepped for the launch at the Space Coast Spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Florida, adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center. There isn't much in the way of training, but expect a few briefings, immersive activities, a behind-the-scenes tour, and some time getting used to the interior of the capsule. There's no fancy spacesuit. Passengers can wear pretty much whatever they want, although Poynter anticipates a requirement for comfortable footwear. "I don't think we want stiletto heels in there," she says.

The flights will launch before dawn, traveling at a comfortable speed of up to 12 miles-per-hour, taking two hours to reach a suborbital zone of 100,000 feet above the Earth. It's technically just below space, but higher than 99 percent of the planet's atmosphere. "We want to get people up there before the sun comes up, because they're going to get the most unbelievable starscape," says Poynter. "You're going to see the Milky Way, the whole bit. Then the sun will start coming up over the curved horizon, and with the few images we've seen of the sunrise up there, it's insane. You get these crazy colors."

Outer space travel
A good way to conquer that fear of heights. | Space Perspective

The capsule will glide for two more hours, then take another two hours to descend. Passengers are only required to be buckled in for the first and last 15 minutes of the journey. Spaceship Neptune will return to Earth with a splashdown in the ocean—nice and easy, just like liftoff—and be picked up by a luxury yacht, which could have friends and family on board for a return celebration. Think of it as the after-party.

It's amazing how fast the entire project is taking shape. Poynter officially launched Space Perspective as a company with Co-CEO Taber MacCallum in 2019. An unmanned test flight last year was described as a "smashing success" (leading to lots of buzz this year at CES) with the first piloted test expected just next year, in 2023. Space Perspective says reservations are nearly full for the two years following its anticipated launch in late 2024. The schedule will start off slow with one flight about every two weeks and pick up the pace from there. The cost is $125,000 per seat with a refundable deposit of $1,000. Got the money? Just book online.

travel to space
We're not in Florida anymore, Toto. | Space Perspective

John Upchurch, a travel agency owner and former attorney, reserved a full capsule for a party of eight. He's already traveled to every continent, so a ride on Spaceship Neptune is an enticing option for a new and different kind of vacation. "I like to backpack far away from ambient light and look up into the stars in the middle of the night," he says. "(To) be at the edge of space for two hours as you look out and see the stars and other planets without light pollution… I think will be a life-transforming experience."

While the concept is groundbreaking, the core technology isn't. NASA has used space balloons in some form for decades, and former employees are now working with Space Perspective to take things in a new direction. Spaceship Neptune is also the only form of space travel that's carbon neutral. Every piece of equipment is reusable with the exception of the balloon itself. However, the material can be recycled to produce future balloons.

So if you're going to travel towards the heavens with a drink in hand, at least be on the one spacecraft that puts the planet first—even while leaving it.

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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than eight years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.