Balloon to circle globe at 130,000ft

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The Independent Online
THE MOST innovative attempt yet to circle the world in a balloon is due to lift off from here this evening, London time.

The joint American- Australian mission will follow the Tropic of Capricorn at a cruising altitude of 130,000ft, about 25 miles. The three pilots, a reporter, an estate agent and a professional balloonist from Wiltshire, will wear space suits designed for Russian cosmonauts as their flight takes them to the edge of space.

John Wallington, the balloonist, who emigrated to Australia at the age of 10, said: "A lot of people say, `You're absolutely crazy', but if I said I didn't want to do it, there would be a queue of people waiting to take my place."

The mission's technology is based on Nasa weather balloons which, from the Sixties, were launched into the stratosphere from Alice Springs.

The high-altitude attempt will avoid the capricious atmospheric airflows that ended previous bids, including Richard Branson's last week.

Mission controller Dan Pedersen, who founded the famous "Top Gun" academy for US fighter pilots, came on board because "this is the last great adventure in aviation".

The idea was hatched five years ago by Bob Martin, a television science reporter fromNew Mexico. He will make the attempt with Mr Wallington and Dave Liniger, chairman of Remax International, the world's biggest estate agent.