Balloonists plan trip to the edge of space

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It is perhaps the first great adventure of the 21st century. When Andy Elson and Colin Prescot take off in an attempt to break the 40-year-old world altitude record, they plan to reach the edge of space.

The British men aim to take off in Cornwall next summer, flying an open-deck gondola below a helium balloon, made in Glastonbury, which is taller than the Empire State Building.

Mr Elson, 48, an aeronautical engineer who left school at 16 with no qualifications, designed the balloon to be made from polythene thinner than a freezer bag.

If the day is clear and they succeed in reaching 132,000ft, or 25 miles, they will be visible from almost anywhere in Britain. At the top of the flight, the men will either slowly descend or abandon the balloon to freefall at 850mph to an altitude at which they can safely open their parachutes.

They plan to breathe bottled oxygen and wear Russian-style space suits as protection against cosmic radiation.

They hope to ascend 17,000ft higher than the record set by two US Navy pilots in 1961. They also plan to gather scientific data about a largely unexplored part of the stratosphere.