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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 15:38 GMT
High hopes for balloon record
Colin Prescott and Andy Elson
Colin Prescott and Andy Elson will fly 25 miles high
Somerset adventurer Andy Elson has unveiled what could be the world's most dangerous and ambitious balloon record attempt.

He and his partner, Colin Prescott, have revealed plans to travel to the edge of the earth's atmosphere by helium-filled balloon.

Both men will wear space suits as they travel up to a height of 132,000 feet (40,234 metres) or 25 miles (40.2 kilometres) from the ground in an open gondola.

The adventurers plan to lift off from Cornwall between July and September next year.

The flight, if successful, will only last for about 12 hours.

The pair's balloon will be 1,295 feet tall
The current height record for a balloon journey stands at 114,000 feet (34,747 metres).

It was set in 1961 by two American navy officers, following a launch from an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Mexico.

Three cosmonauts from the Soviet Union tried to better this in the 1970s and succeeded in reaching 118,000 feet (35,966 metres).

Unfortunately, all three men died during the descent and the record was declared null and void.

The balloon Elson and Prescott will be travelling in will be a total height of 1,295 feet (395 metres) -that is seven times the height of Nelson's Column.

At the proposed altitude, their space suits will have to withstand extreme pressure and temperatures as low as -73 degrees Celsius.

"Why are we doing this? It's an unashamed adventure

Colin Prescott
The Russian-designed suits will also have to withstand cosmic radiation bombarding them on the fringe of space.

Elson and Prescott said they have fancied the challenge for a while. Two years ago they took cosmonaut training in Moscow ready for an attempt like this.

Andy Elson, a hot-air balloon designer, is no stranger to peril. In 1999, he was rescued after ditching in the sea near Japan during a round-the-world attempt.

However, he did admit to being daunted by the scale of this latest challenge.

The 51-year-old father-of-two said: "The biggest worry is that the balloon could tear itself to pieces at the launch."

Inspiration hope

But he also said that he and 48-year-old aerial filming sequence co-ordinater Colin Prescot are ready to have a go for the record.

Colin Prescot said: "Why are we doing this? It's the excitement of making the first British manned mission into space. It's an unashamed adventure. And that's what we are, adventurers."

Andy Elson also said at the launch at Nelson's Column in London how he hoped his record-breaking attempt would be an inspiration to school leavers everywhere.

He said: "I'd like to say to all those kids about to leave school with no qualifications like me, you're not a write-off. There's still so much you can do."

See also:

12 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Balloon project deflated again
05 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
Balloonists answer your questions at 20,000ft
12 Apr 99 | Sci/Tech
Balloon bags space dust
22 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
Ballooning's 'triumph of a dream'
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