Balloonists Launch Japan-to-America Odyssey

The American and Russian pilots hope the journey will take just over 5 days
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2015 12:14 PM CST
Balloonists Launch Japan-to-America Odyssey
Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia, left, and Troy Bradley of Albuquerque, NM, in Saga, Japan, where their Two Eagles balloon lifted off Sunday.   (Courtesy of Tami Bradley)

(Newser) – Riding in a 140-foot tall balloon filled with 350,000 cubic feet of gas, an American and a Russian have set off from Japan in the hopes of setting two balloon ride records at once. First, Troy Bradley, 50, and Leonid Tiukhtyaev, 58, hope to reach North America and break the current distance record of 5,208 miles, which was set between Japan and the US in 1981. And second, they hope to reach the West Coast in 5.5 days and then head inland another day or two, breaking the duration record of 137 hours (5.7 days) set in 1978, reports the AP. "Everything went just like a textbook," said team social media director Letitia Hill just after takeoff early yesterday. (Bad weather delayed two previous attempts earlier this month.)

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Mission Control, situated in a small room at a balloon museum in Albuquerque, includes balloonists, a meteorologist, a physician, and a search-and-rescue expert, who are staying in touch with the pilots via satellite phones, reports the Albuquerque Journal. The balloon, called Two Eagles, is equipped with several types of radios, a high-tech navigation system, and basics like food and a first-aid kit. The men will wear oxygen masks and stay bundled up in the 50-degree cabin as they fly at an expected altitude of at least 15,000 feet. It's possible the pilots could be in flight for as many as 10 days, the balloon's apparent outer limits, and it's not clear where they'll come down. "That’s going to keep us on the edge of our seats for this mission," says Hill. Bradley and Tiukhtyaev are also being monitored by Arizona State University researchers studying fatigue's effects on cognition. (Check out this recent balloon ride that didn't go as planned.)

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