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Monday, January 11, 1999 Published at 17:57 GMT

Sky high hopes

The balloonists must complete the journey by 31 December 1999

Richard Branson's Global Challenger was well equipped and the crew, Branson, Steve Fossett and Per Lindstrand were by far the most experienced - but on Christmas Day 1998 their balloon ditched in teh Pacific Ocean.

The season's new challenger - Team Remax, piloted by American Bob Martin and Australian John Wallington - is ready for takeoff and waiting for the right weather.

This unusual balloon will attempt to circle the globe at the edge of the Earth's atmosphere.

Last year five teams tried and failed to circumnavigate the globe, non-stop, in a balloon.

Nearly all of them are trying again - determined to take this milestone for themselves - and for the century.

Compare the teams details below.

Fossett and Branson have both nearly been killed in their pursuit of this goal - but they may still try again before this year is out.

Andy Elson, who set a new distance record in the Breitling Orbiter II in February 1998, has this season teamed up with Colin Prescott and will be attempting the record a Cable and Wireless sponsored balloon.

Last year's Global Hilton team which only managed 100 miles before the two pilots, Dick Rutan and Dave Melton had to parachute out are not taking part this season.

The teams hoping to circle the globe

Team Remax

Crew: John Wallington, Bob Martin, Dave Liniger
Launch site: Alice Springs, Australia
Launch date: Late December 1998
Previous attempt: None. This balloon uses completely different technology to all the others. The gondola is like a pressurised space capsule and it will attempt the circumnavigation of the globe at the stratospheric edge of space. The team say it is the result of five years of research.

Cable and Wireless

Pilots: Andy Elson and Colin Prescot
Launch site: La Envia Golf,Almeria, Spain
Launch date: November 1998
Previous attempt: Elson set the world balloon endurance record in February 1998 on the Brietling Orbiter II with nine days and 17 hours of flight. The attempt was abandoned when China refused permission for the balloon to pass through its airspace.

Breitling Orbiter III

Pilots: Bertrand Piccard and Tony Brown
Launch site: Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland
Launch date: Late November 1998
Previous attempts: These include January 1997 when it took only six hours before technical problems forced the crew to land in the Mediterranean. February 1998 - set endurance record of nine days and 17 hours. Attempt ended when China refused permission to pass through its airspace.

J Renee

Pilot: Kevin Uliassi - solo
Launch site: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Launch date: November 1998 onwards
Previous attempt: January 1998 - A faulty vent on the craft forced him to land three hours after launch.

ICO Global

Pilot: Per Lindstrand
Crew: Richard Branson, millionaire owner of Virgin and Steve Fossett who holds numerous ballooning records.
Launch site: Marrakech, Morocco
Launch: 18 December 1998
Attempt failed: After crossing over Libya, avoiding Iran, navigating between Iraq and Russia and being granted permission to cross China, the attempt comes to an end in a storm over the Pacific Ocean. The team face difficulties when their envelope will not detach, but are resuced and return home safe.
Branson and Lindstrand's previous attempts: January 1997 - 23 hours and 400 miles before crash-landing in Algeria; December 1997 the balloon broke from its moorings hours before the crew were due to climb into the capsule. The attempt was called off due to bad weather.
Fossett's previous attempts: The veteran balloonist made four attempts in his balloon Solo Spirit including: January 1997 - six days and 10,000 miles (16,000 km), setting records for distance and duration. January 1998 - four hours and 11 minutes; August 1998 - 18,000 km and a new distance record. Attempt ended when his balloon ruptured over the Pacific Ocean.

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