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Smooth Start for New Balloon Flight

23 June 2002

Adventurer Steve Fossett drifted over Australia on Wednesday, catching short naps and marveling over the smooth progress of his sixth bid to become the first solo balloonist to circle the globe.

``I'm so used to having all kinds of problems with the equipment; it's just a pleasure to have everything running so well,'' the 58-year-old Chicago investment tycoon said aboard his cramped Bud Light Spirit of Freedom, which set out from Australia at 9:37 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

At the mission control center at Washington University in St. Louis, coordinator Kevin Stass called Fossett's adventure ``remarkably uneventful, and I'm touching wood when I say this.''

As of about 7 p.m. EDT, Fossett was reported cruising at 51 mph, 19,200 feet above Australia's southern shore. Fossett even managed a brief nap, which is unusual on the first day of such a quest, Stass said.

Fossett hopes to complete the round-the-world flight in 15 days.

Fossett holds world records in ballooning, sailing and flying planes. He also swam the English Channel in 1985, placed 47th in the Iditarod dogsled race in 1992 and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in 1996.

Flying a balloon solo around the globe is considered one of aviation's last great challenges. Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard and Englishman Brian Jones completed the trip as a team in 1999.

In two of Fossett's earlier attempts, he plummeted into the Coral Sea and was forced to ditch on a Brazilian cattle ranch after 12 days aloft, making it the longest-ever solo balloon flight.

Fossett sits in a Kevlar-and-carbon capsule the size of a closet, breathing oxygen through a mask and eating military-style rations. The capsule has sophisticated communications and navigation equipment.