Ballooning across the ocean like camping in the sky
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An international team is piloting the helium-filled, Two Eagles balloon across the Pacific Ocean. The pilots want to break a pair of major ballooning records.
The balloon pilots are Troy Bradley, of Albuquerque, N.M., and Leonid Tiukhtyaev (too-kh-TY'-yev), of Russia. They launched from Saga, Japan, early Sunday morning. They're aiming for the shores of North America. It's an attempt that will put them on course to break a distance record of 5,208 miles. The record has stood for more than 30 years.
They're also looking to break the flight-duration record. It was set in 1978. That's when Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman made the first trans-Atlantic balloon flight. That record is 137 hours in the air in a traditional gas balloon. The flight is considered the finest of ballooning achievements.
Bradley has likened the journey to a camping trip in the sky. The balloon's capsule is about the size of a large tent. It's 7 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5 feet tall. That leaves the pilots little room to move around. Since they're flying at an altitude of at least 15,000 feet, they have oxygen masks. And they are bundled up. It's pretty cold inside the capsule.
They have sleeping bags and a small onboard heater. The balloon is also equipped with a simple toilet.
The pilots eat freeze-dried meals, fresh fruit, beef jerky and energy bars. They drink plenty of water. A small stove is also onboard.
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev have been sharing photos of the view from their carbon composite capsule. They use social media. Some photos show the sun peeking over the Earth's curve. Others show part of the balloon and spotty clouds. The clouds cover an ocean of blue many thousands of feet below.
The team has been in constant communication with mission control.
The team's exact destination in North America is not known. That's because the location will depend on the winds the balloon encounters along the way. As of earlier this week, the balloon was nearly two-thirds of the way across the ocean. It was traveling 78 mph at an altitude of more than 20,000 feet.
Critical thinking challenge: What it the difference between the two records the team is trying to set. Is one record a bigger achievement than the other?