Floating gently into space.

Imagine taking a 3-day ride into space, floating up underneath a massive air balloon. Sounds like Jules Verne, but it could be reality in the next few years. Although there’s a lot of excitement over the news that a private vehicle operated by SpaceShipOne entered space today, an intriguing alternate space program is also underway. JP Aerospace is developing gigantic balloons that can float all the way up to the edge of space — 140,000 feet — and, with some additional propulsion, can even get into orbit to dock with huge orbital space stations. The company is currently testing its designs, with help from a DoD investment, and says that it is about 7 years from completion. Sounds incredible, but its test flights have already reached almost 100,000 feet of altitude. As a bonus, the company sends ping pong ball-sized space experiments, developed by schoolkids, on every test flight.

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Floating gently into space.