To Boldly Go Where None Have Gone (Without A Rocket)


A helium leak halted an attempt by two British men to set an altitude record in a balloon. Colin Prescot, 53, and Andy Elson, 48, hoped to set a world record by piloting their 387-meters-tall helium balloon to 39,600 meters (132,000 feet). The QinetiQ 1, as it is called, was supposed to loiter for an hour and conduct experiments on the stratosphere before returning to terra firma. Unfortunately, the aircraft never left the ground, as a helium leak occurred during the balloon’s inflation process. The current altitude record for a manned balloon is 34,667 meters, set in 1961 by United States Navy pilots Malcolm Ross and Vic Prather. The British pair will not be able to launch again until next year, as weather conditions are becoming less favorable. They have plenty of experience at this sort of adventure. The duo initially tried to make the flight last year but poor weather forced them to cancel. Each has set individual ballooning records and jointly set the world endurance record for any aircraft in the earth’s atmosphere by flying from Spain to the Pacific in 17 days, 18 hours and 25 minutes as part of a round-the-world attempt.