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Friday, January 15, 1999 Published at 04:31 GMT

Balloon hopes deflated

Stranded on the launch pad

Two balloonists accepted defeat on Friday after Australia's outback weather repeatedly thwarted their bid to circle the earth on the edge of space.

The joint US-Australian attempt on what has been described as the world's last great aviation adventure may instead take place in December.

Great balloon challenge
Team RE/MAX said weather analyses showed winds would be too high for a launch from the team's Alice Springs site in central Australia before the Sunday deadline for the project.

The mission has been grounded by rain, thunderstorms and winds too high to allow the balloon to be inflated.

[ image: The RE/MAX plan of action]
The RE/MAX plan of action
The team had intended to avoid the weather problems that have plagued other round-the-world balloon attempts by taking the balloon up to an altitude of 39 km (24 miles), near the edge of the stratosphere where winds are steadier.

The balloon launch, already delayed nearly three weeks due to a variety of weather problems and technical glitches, was to have begun a journey expected to take 16 to 18 days and bring the two pilots back to Alice Springs.

At a news conference in Alice Springs, the team - Denver real estate magnate Dave Liniger and Australian balloonist John Wallington - said part of the problem was that they had tried to keep the cost of the project down by accepting donated equipment from sponsors.

"We have learned a great deal about this kind of effort," Mr Liniger said. "We'll be doing some redesign and come back this December," he told reporters.

"On reflection, we have learned that our failure to be able to launch is a result of the width of the solar panels and their suspension system," he said.

No other team has yet attempted to fly so high, at the very edge of the stratosphere where atmospheric pressure will be a fraction of that at ground level and crew members will have to wear Russian space suits.

Two of their rivals, Britain's Richard Branson and American Steve Fossett were plucked from the sea off Hawaii late last year as bad weather forced them to abort a similar round-world attempt.

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