Detecting light reflected from exoplanets by direct imaging is the next major milestone in the search for, and characterization of, an Earth twin. Due to the high-risk and cost associated with satellites and limitations imposed by the atmosphere for ground-based instruments, we propose a bottom-up approach to reach that ultimate goal with an endeavor named MAPLE. MAPLE first project is a stratospheric balloon experiment called MAPLE-50. MAPLE-50 consists of a 50 cm diameter off-axis telescope working in the near-UV. The advantages of the near-UV are a small inner working angle and an improved contrast for blue planets. Along with the sophisticated tracking system to mitigate balloon pointing errors, MAPLE-50 will have a deformable mirror, a vortex coronograph, and a self-coherent camera as a focal plane wavefront-sensor which employs an Electron Multiplying CCD (EMCCD) as the science detector. The EMCCD will allow photon counting at kHz rates, thereby closely tracking telescope and instrument-bench-induced aberrations as they evolve with time. In addition, the EMCCD will acquire the science data with almost no read noise penalty. To mitigate risk and lower costs, MAPLE-50 will at first have a single optical channel with a minimum of moving parts. The goal is to reach a few times 109 contrast in 25 h worth of flying time, allowing direct detection of Jovians around the nearest stars. Once the 50 cm infrastructure has been validated, the telescope diameter will then be increased to a 1.5 m diameter (MAPLE-150) to reach 1010 contrast and have the capability to image another Earth.