Not just hot air

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 July, 1998, 12:00am

Steve Fossett, a 53-year-old Colorado commodities broker who holds the world record for long-distance ballooning, is poised to begin his fourth attempt to circle the world non-stop - this time in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fossett is trying for the last unconquered goal of long-distance ballooning. The launch site, where his balloon Solo Spirit is being prepared, is the municipal stadium in Mendoza, Argentina, in the Andes foothills.

Having originally aimed to take off last Thursday, the launch was delayed to today or later because of unfavourable winds.

This will be the first round-the-world balloon attempt from the Southern Hemisphere, and Fossett hopes that the unconventional course will enhance his chances.

All efforts by half a dozen ballooning teams in the last decade to circle the world in the Northern Hemisphere have failed, mostly for technical reasons but also because of delays in the granting of overflight permission by various nations.

Fossett expects to fly mostly over water, perhaps passing over southern South Africa, but not entering the airspace of any of the nations that previously refused him clearance.

If he completes the 32,000-kilometre trip, Fossett wins the Budweiser Cup and an accompanying US$1 million (HK$7.74 million) prize from the beer-maker Anheuser-Busch.

The Solo Spirit, like most long-distance balloons, gets its lift from helium gas and hot air. At night, when cool air chills the helium, the gas contracts and loses lift. To compensate, propane burners are used to heat air in a compartment separate from the helium cell, providing extra lift.

The trip, if successful, will take 15 to 18 days, and further details will be on the web site .

Cutting emissions After months of uncertainty, the European Union countries have agreed national targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The union agreed at the United Nations global warming conference in Kyoto last December to cut overall emissions of six gases by eight per cent from 1990 levels by 2010.

Under an agreement signed last month, eight countries will cut emissions - the figures include Germany and Denmark to cut by 21 per cent, Luxembourg by 28 per cent and Britain by 12.5 per cent. Finland and France will level their emissions at 1990 levels by 2010, while Portugal, Greece, Spain, Ireland and Sweden will be allowed to increase theirs.

Lucrative comets Amateur astronomers who find new comets will be paid for their efforts as well as have the comet named after them. The Edgar Wilson Award, the legacy of a Kentucky business executive with a passion for astronomy, will provide US$20,000 a year to be divided among comet-spotters who have their name assigned to a comet - or comets - in a year. About five are discovered by amateurs each year.