Space Tourism and High Altitude Balloons

The classification of high altitude balloon rides as “space tourism” is a matter of debate, largely depending on the specific definition one uses for “space.”

The internationally recognized boundary of space is the Kármán line, which is situated 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Earth’s sea level. This line marks the boundary where aeronautics ends and astronautics begins. It was named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-American engineer and physicist, who identified that around this altitude the atmosphere is too thin to provide enough lift for conventional aircraft to maintain flight.

Space tourism, in its strictest sense, is understood as the business or practice of taking paying passengers into space, beyond the Kármán line. In this sense, most high altitude balloon rides currently offered would not be classified as space tourism, as they do not reach this altitude. Instead, these ventures are often classified as “Adventure Tourism”

For example, companies such as World View, Space Perspective and Zero2Infinity offer or have plans to offer high altitude balloon experiences. These balloons travel up to altitudes of about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), providing passengers with dramatic, panoramic views of the Earth, similar to those seen from space. However, these altitudes fall far short of the Kármán line.

Yet, it’s important to note that the definition of “space” is not universally agreed upon. In the United States, for example, space is considered to begin at an altitude of 80 kilometers (50 miles) above the Earth’s surface, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. Air Force, and NASA. Using this definition, balloon rides would still not qualify as space tourism, but the altitude required to be considered “in space” is significantly lower than the Kármán line.

High Altitude Balloons and Their Role in the Tourism Industry

While not classified as space tourism, high altitude balloon rides do play an important role in the broader commercial space sector.

These balloon rides offer many of the sights and some of the experiences associated with space travel. Passengers can witness the curvature of the Earth against the backdrop of the blackness of space and experience a serene form of travel very different from the high-speed dynamics of rocket flight. Additionally, these flights can serve as a more accessible and potentially more affordable stepping-stone for those intrigued by the idea of space tourism.


In light of the current definitions and thresholds for space, high altitude balloon rides are not classified as space tourism, but rather as Adventure Tourism. Despite this, they provide a unique and valuable experience within the broader commercial space and adventure tourism industries, offering some of the perspectives and experiences commonly associated with space travel.

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