This image released by World View on June 23, 2014, offers a glimpse of the view the company's "Voyagers" will be treated to during flights to 120,000 feet.
USEPA Photo by Eric Vance
This week, our top Earth snapshots include an amazing Alaskan flyover, the Space Station's peaceful view of Russia and Eastern Europe -- and a red tide that's causing havoc in Florida. The EPA maintains these controlled growth chambers (above) in Corvallis, Ore. They enable researchers to study the effects of air pollution, heavy metals and toxic substances on plant life.PHOTOS: Massive Mayfly Invasion Marauds Midwest
This image of Alaskan forest land was shot from a Piper Cherokee aircraft by NASA scientists. They're conducting an aerial survey of 174,000 square miles of forests in the Alaskan interior, which are difficult to reach on the ground.BLOG: A Huge Alaska Quake Could Devastate California
From the International Space Station, an astronaut captured this view of the southern Baltic sea. Russia, Poland and Lithuania are in the foreground, while Norway, Denmark and Sweden are seen in the distance.PHOTOS: Costa Concordia's Final Journey
USDA photo by David Kosling
California is suffering through a severe drought. This image, taken back in February, shows a dried-up riverbed along Highway 99 near Bakersfield.NEWS: Southwest Groundwater Disappearing at 'Shocking' Rate
Kim Parsons/NOAA Fisheries
A group of killer whales, also known as orcas, are seen swimming here in a tight pattern. NOAA scientists recently published a study of killer whale genetics, in which they reported that the creatures form distinct sub-populations that don't have much cross-breeding.VIDEO: Whales Get Sunburned, Too
Typhoon Rammasun, AKA Glenda, battered the Philippines in mid-July. The storm is seen here in a satellite photo.BLOG: How Do Summer Superstorms Form?
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Staff; Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
A sergeant major fish and an angelfish swim in a reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These fragile underwater habitats are threatened by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the water, due to climate change.NEWS: When Fish Go Deeper They Glow Brighter
A red tide off the coast of Florida has killed thousands of fish along with sea turtles and crabs,reports the AP
. The algal bloom is caused by a marine organism,
which is naturally occuring buttoxic to humans and wildlife
.PHOTOS: Earth Shots: Must-See Planet Pics (July 18)
A near-space balloon company is about to take its fledgling test campaign to the next level.
Arizona-based World View, which aims to loft passengers to the stratosphere by late 2016, will start launching research and education payloads on its unmanned test flights later this year, company officials said.
"This is meant to show how serious we are," World View chief scientist and co-founder Alan Stern told Space.com. "We're not just talking about flying payloads. We're starting it ourselves."
World View — which launched its first test flight last month from New Mexico — has chosen three payloads that will collect data at altitudes as high as 120,000 feet (36,500 meters) during the test campaign, as part of a program the company is calling Pathfinder. These experiments, along with their home institutions and principal investigators, are:
Meteor Imager, SETI (
Student Ozone Monitor, Florida Space Grant Consortium (Jaydeep Mukherjee)
Stratospheric Automated Radiation Measurements for Aviation Safety, Space Environment Technologies (W. Kent Tobiska)
Each of these payloads may go up on multiple test flights, at no cost to their home institutions, Stern said.
World View is selling seats on its manned balloon system for $75,000. Customers will float up to an altitude of about 100,000 feet (30,500 m), where they'll get a stunning view of Earth against the blackness of space, company representatives have said. (Several other firms, including Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, are developing rocket-powered vehicles that will take passengers much higher, up into suborbital space.)
But World View isn't just about near-space tourism, Stern stressed. The company is also developing unmanned systems that will fly scientific and education payloads to the stratosphere and views such efforts as key to their business plan. (The unmanned June test flight employed one of these systems, which World View calls Tycho.)
The research and education market "is going to be, we think, potentially even a larger market than the tourism side," Stern said.
More From LiveScience:
Edge of Space Balloon Rides - Test Delivers Amazing Views
Now Boarding: The Top 10 Private Spaceships
Earth From Space: Amazing Astronaut Photos