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Steve Fossett: First Solo Balloon Flight Around the World

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Steve Fossett has finally realized his dream. He has sailed around the world in a hot air balloon. More importantly, he is the first to do it alone.

Fossett, who took off from Australia on June 18, landed again in Australia on July 3, completing his round-the-world journey on the sixth try, in 15 days.

The balloon has no engine. It gets its power from the wind. It is 140 feet high and 60 feet wide and contains 550,000 cubic feet of helium plus 100,000 cubic feet of hot air. Forty tanks of fuel hang from the outside of the capsule. This fuel is burned to heat the helium in the balloon to cause it to rise. The balloon also has an autopilot, which allows Fossett to get some sleep or use both hands to eat.

Speaking of eating, Fossett's meals were just like the military eats--Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). He ate a few times a day, while also trying to keep warm. He averaged only 4 hours of sleep a day, in a sleeping bag.

The balloon sailed five to six miles up in the air, and the temperature up there can dip below 0. Oxygen in the air is also thin. Fossett wore warm clothes and breathed from an oxygen mask. Even more uncomfortable, the gondola (the part he was in) wasn't much bigger than a small closet.

Why did he do it? Steve Fossett loves balloons. He always has. He has tried five other times to sail all the way across the world. Each time, he ran out of wind or fuel and had to set down early. This time, he made it all the way.

Some other balloon facts:

  • Fossett was the first to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean, flying from Seoul, South Korea, to Mendham, Saskatchewan, in 1995.
  • He was the first to cross the African continent in a balloon, in 1997.
  • He was the first to cross the European continent in a balloon, in 1998.
  • He was the first to cross the South Atlantic and the Indian oceans, in 1998.

Fossett isn't the first to fly a balloon around the world. That honor belongs to Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and his English co-pilot, Brian Jones, who did it in 1999. But Fossett is the first to fly all by himself in a balloon around the world.

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday

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