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National Perspective

Around-the-World Balloon to Be Smithsonian Exhibit

April 08, 1999|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian Institution's newest exhibit is as tall as the Tower of Pisa, as heavy as a fighter plane and inflates to the volume of seven Olympic swimming pools. It is a silvery hot-air balloon that carried two adventurers around the world in 20 days.

The balloonists, Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard, got a hero's welcome Wednesday at the National Air and Space Museum, where their historic vehicle will be displayed alongside Charles A. Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis airplane, Orville and Wilbur Wright's 1903 biplane and the Apollo 11 command module used in the first landing on the moon.

The Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon, minus the hot air that makes it soar 181 feet, will be on display beginning in September.

Its high-tech gondola, about the size of two minivans, has a bunk, toilet, kitchen area, control panel, oxygen and nitrogen tanks, solar panels, satellite phones and a fax machine. Quarters were tight, but the two balloonists say they did not have a cross word during their more than 26,500-mile ride on the jet streams.

"We just had to put our capsule into a position where Mother Nature could just take us in her arms. It was a wonderful feeling," said Jones, 52, a British pilot and balloon instructor.

For their effort, Anheuser-Busch Cos. made good on its 1997 pledge to give $1 million to the first balloon team to travel nonstop around the globe.

The team will share half of the money. The rest will be used to support humanitarian projects around the world, said Marie Bodman, president of Breitling U.S.A. Inc., part of a Swiss company that sponsored the balloon excursion.

Since 1984, eight ballooning teams have attempted the feat, museum director Donald Engen said. Jones and Piccard, 41, a doctor who specializes in psychiatry, were the first to succeed--19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes after their March 1 launching from the Swiss Alps.

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