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The overview effect, space tourism, and one daring rapper

Rapper Towkio put on a pressurized Spacesuit, hopped into a capsule attached to a balloon, and dropped his new album WWW from the stratosphere. 

And he captured it all on video:

With the balloon ride, Towkio wanted to experience the Overview Effect, defined by the Overview Institute as:

“…the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.  From space, the astronauts tell us, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide us become less important and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.”

In a short-film on the overview effect (viewable below), various astronauts recall the wonder of seeing the thin film of Earth’s atmosphere around the planet, the only thing standing in the way between the vacuum of space and life on Earth. The atmosphere is what makes Earth Earth and humans human

While not to take away from Towkio’s awesome ride to the stratosphere and his creativity and fearlessness in pulling off the stunt, he never actually made it to space. By international standards space begins at the Karman line (roughly 62 miles in the air or around 330,000 feet above sea level) where the atmosphere is too thin to support aeronautical flight. Towkio reached a maximum height of around 92,000 feet. But where does the atmosphere of Earth actually end and space begin?

The Earth’s atmosphere is classified into five different layers: the thermosphere (sea-level to 8 miles), the stratosphere (9 to 31 miles), the mesosphere (32 to 53 miles), the thermosphere (54-375 miles), and the exosphere (376 to 6,700 miles). In fact, the International Space Station and most satellites reside in the thermosphere, which is technically still within the Earth’s atmosphere. Only 24 people, all part of missions to the moon, have traveled beyond the Earth’s exosphere. While the Earth’s atmosphere technically extends over 6,700 Miles out into space, once you are in the upper bounds of the stratosphere the air is so thin that you are above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why even at 92,000 feet, the thin blue film that forms the edge of the bulk of the Earth’s atmosphere can be seen.

But for aspiring space tourists, the draw of spaceflight is to experience something only 536 humans have ever done: cross the Karman line of space 330,000 feet above sea level. And the only way to get there? A suborbital rocket. But is floating up 100,000 feet on a balloon and seeing the thin blue line of the Earth’s atmosphere just as powerful of an experience? Balloon companies such as Worldview and Zero2Infinity sure think so.

For $75,000, Worldview offers balloon rides to the edge of the stratosphere in a futuristic six-passenger capsule with big windows. A ticket on Zero2Infinity’s Bloon costs $124,000 and even comes with special “space” socks. For reference, a Virgin Galactic ticket to space costs $250,000 but the only tourists who have ever visited space paid around $20 to $40 million for their rides on Russian Soyuz rockets.

Sure, it is probably more exciting to ride at Mach 3 on a rocket, experience zero gravity in a spacecraft (although that can be experienced on the Zero-G plane in the troposphere), and see Earth from the perspective of NASA astronauts. But for astronauts old and new, the lasting impression of their space travels was the overview effect they experienced from viewing the beauty and fragility of Earth from a privileged vantage point in the heavens.

As Felix Baumgartner said right before he jumped from a balloon floating 128,000 feet above Earth: “Sometimes, you have to be up really high to understand how small you are.”

Even if you technically never make it into space.

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