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SPACESHIP SMACKDOWN: Space Balloon vs. Richard Branson's Virgin SpaceShipTwo

SPACESHIP SMACKDOWN: Space Balloon vs. Richard Branson's Virgin SpaceShipTwo

(Photo: AP/Virgin Galactic)

Soon, the very daring — and the very rich — may have their choice between carriers for a round-trip to the final frontier: Space.

On Tuesday, Arizona-based World View Enterprises announced it had completed a successful test flight of a high-altitude balloon capsule it hopes to use to ferry passengers into space (the balloon is similar to the one Felix Baumgartner jumped out of in his record-breaking sky dive). World View hopes to use its “Voyager” capsule to begin 6-passenger trips into space starting in 2016 — for the bargain-basement price of $75,000.


World View says it has completed a successful test of its space tourism balloon. (Photo: AP)

That’s a lot cheaper than another, better-known space ferry service also being tested. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo — which, unlike the Voyager balloon capsule, is an honest-to-gosh spaceship — will actually take 6 passengers higher above the earth for a much higher price: $250,000.


Richard Branson wants to ferry passengers to space aboard his own Virgin Galactic (Source: AP)

This presents a dilemma for the well-heeled, wannabe astronaut deciding which spaceflight to take:  balloon vs. spaceship? Relaxing balloon ride vs. hold-on-to-your-hats spaceflight? And, most importantly, $75,000 vs. $250,000. Yahoo! Travel examines the two carriers to see which one you should boldly go on.

RELATED: The Sky’s the Limit: Top Commercial Space Travel Companies


Voyager: Ascends to about 20 miles up — which, according to World View, takes you above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo: 68-69 miles up — a suborbital altitude that technically qualifies as a spaceflight.

Advantage: Virgin. Because with the higher flight comes a huge perk we’ll get to a little later.


Because height matters: Virgin Galactic will take its passengers higher above Earth than World View’s more inexpensive ballon (Photo: Virgin Galactic)


Voyager: No training required for passengers

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo: 2-3 days pre-fight training with the crew

Advantage: Voyager. Because we couldn’t even sit through the 5-minute safety demo before our flight to Des Moines. A 3-day version does NOT sound fun.


A cool plane, but the pre-flight lecture is brutal (Photo: AP) 


Voyager:  After its space-age balloon fills with helium, the Voyager begins a gradual, two-hour ascent to its cruising altitude of 100,000 feet. Once there, the capsule will float above the Earth for another two hours. After that, the helium releases, allowing a parafoil to guide the capsule on a gradual, two-hour descent back to Earth. Total Flight Time: About 6 hours 


World View offers a long, leisurely balloon flight into space (Photo: AP)

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo: A rocket booster carries SpaceShipTwo to about 50,000 feet, after which SpaceShipTwo separates and takes passengers the rest of the way to its cruising altitude of 360,000 feet. After a few minutes in space, the craft lands on Earth, space shuttle-style. Total Flight Time: About 2 hours


Virgin Galactic offers a space flight that lasts as long as a movie (Photo: Virgin Galactic) 

Advantage: SpaceShipTwo. Because on the vehicular hierarchy, spaceships are cooler than balloons

RELATED:  The Airplane Of Your Dreams: Inside the New Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner 


Voyager:  The sizable capsule allows passengers to walk around and enjoy a 360-degree view of the Earth’s curvature. There’s also a refreshment bar, a bathroom, and Internet access. 


World View’s Voyager capsule offers a bar, a bathroom, and Internet (Photo: AP)

RELATED: "We Want Free WiFi in Airports" 

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo: Weightlessness! For about six minutes during the flight, passengers will be free to float about the cabin.

Advantage:  Voyager. Weightlessness sounds awesome, but we’re giving the edge to Voyager because of the Internet access. Two words: space selfie.


"You are now free to float about the cabin." The Virgin Galactic Flight comes with six minutes of weightlessness (Photo: Virgin Galactic)


Voyager: Hopes to begin ferrying passengers in 2016

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo: Virgin wants to get this going by the end of 2014 (but that deadline has been pushed back repeatedly)

Advantage: No one. We’re expecting major flight delays from both of them.

WINNER: Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo. Because unlike World View’s “spaceflight,” Virgin actually takes passengers into space. Also, if you have a quarter of a million you can blow just for the fun of playing astronaut, then you’re already winning… at life. 

BEST BUY: World View’s Voyager.  Because it’s way cheaper than Virgin. And unless your friends are actual astronauts — or those nerds from “The Big Bang Theory” — people aren’t going to quibble over your spacefaring credentials because you technically weren’t above the Kármán line. And you can use the money you save for a nice vacation on Earth — where you can make new friends by telling stores about that time you went to space. 

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