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Great balloon challenge Saturday, 20 March, 1999, 17:09 GMT
Sky-high hopes
The race is on
The balloonists must complete the journey by 31 December 1999
In the last year seven attempts to circumnavigate the world in a balloon have failed.

The Cable and Wireless balloon was hit by storms south of Japan and forced to ditch in the Pacific on 7 March - but only after smashing the endurance world record.

Great balloon challenge
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 the Pacific Ocean.

Then Team RE/MAX's audacious high altitude attempt never made it off the ground.

Now the Breitling Orbiter 3 is left alone in the skies to try to take this milestone for themselves - and for the century.

Teams who took up the challenge

Breitling Orbiter 3

Pilots: Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones
Launch site: Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland
Launch date: 1 March 1999
Round-the-world record broken: 20 March 1999
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.

Cable and Wireless

Pilots: Andy Elson and Colin Prescot
Launch site: La Envia Golf, Almeria, Spain
Launch date: 17 February 1999
Attempt failed: 7 March 1999
Without permission to enter Chinese airspace, Elson and Prescott were forced to fly further south than the Branson attempt. An otherwise smooth journey encountered problems when low clouds meant they could not re-charge the balloon's solar panel batteries, needed to keep the kerosene burners running. As they tried to rise through the cloud they were hit by rain and snow. The balloon was encrusted with ice when it came down.

"Without the permission of China it is probably impossible to do it in the northern hemisphere," said Andy Elson.

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.

Team Remax

Crew: John Wallington, Bob Martin, Dave Liniger
Launch site: Alice Springs, Australia
Launch date: never happened
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.

Once at altitude, the balloon would have avoided all weather conditions, but the delicate canopy needed perfect conditions for launch. Those conditions never arrived in the weather window and Team Remax stayed on the ground.

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 rescued 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.

See also:

25 Dec 98 | Great balloon challenge
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