Record Breaking sailor, Steve Fossett and his balloon, Bud Light Spirit of Freedom, have rounded third base and are making a run for home.
That is, the last 12 hours have begun the final leg of Fossett's solo bid to circumnavigate the globe by balloon. His north-to-southeast swing over South Africa has been padded with milestones.
Mission Control received some of the most vivid multimedia yet from the Cessna Citation X chase plane, Fossett's personal jet. Close-range overhead views and distant panoramic shots show the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom aglow in the South Africa sun.
Only hours later, in the midst of a jet stream supplying winds upwards of 100 miles per hour, Fossett broke one of his own records. At 16:23 UTC, today, the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom Mission became the longest solo balloon flight in history in terms of total distance travelled. Fossett set the old record for longest solo balloon flight at 14,235.3 miles (22,909.53 km) in his 1998 attempt to fly solo around the world that ended in the Coral Sea.
The new record is not what is on everyone's mind, though. Off in the distance some 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers) lies Fossett's true goal, the west coast of Australia. The jet stream the balloon is in now should spur Fossett toward land at up to 138 miles per hour (222.2 kilometers per hour) allowing him to reach Australia and 117 degree longitude (crossing this line will mark the successful completion of Fossett's circumnavigation) around 10:00 UTC, July 2nd. Current weather forecasts do not favor a landing in Western Australia, though. Mission Control expects Fossett to make landfall just northeast of Adelaide, Australia around 00:00 UTC, July 3.
Bud Light Spirit of Freedom is now 30 degrees south latitude, 42 degrees east longitude. The balloon is traveling at 95.4 miles per hour (153.5 km per hour), at 25,300 feet (7,711.4 m). Fossett has travelled 15,363.5 miles (24557.3 kilometers) since launch in Northam, Australia twelve days ago.