American Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev have surpassed the world distance record for a flight in a helium balloon after crossing the Pacific Ocean.
The two pilots also hope to set a new duration record.
Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev left Japan in their “Two Eagles” balloon on January 25 and had aimed to land in Canada or the US.
However, weather has forced them to change course towards Mexico where they are due to land sometime on January 31.
Their hi-tech balloon is fitted with monitors and other instruments that track their course and compile data to be submitted to record-keepers.
The specially-designed capsule sits beneath a huge helium-filled envelope and is designed to stay aloft for up to 10 days.
To set new distance and durations records the team needed to beat the existing records by 1%.
Photo Tami Bradley
For distance that meant a journey of about 5,260 miles to beat the existing record of 5,208 miles set in 1981.
On January 29, the Two Eagles team tweeted: “The pilots have just surpassed the distance needed to set a new record. 5,261 miles or 8,467km.”
“We’re not taking any time to celebrate,” said head of mission control Steve Shope.
“We have a lot of work we have to do, and we’re just taking this flight one hour at a time.”
On its website, the team says Two Eagles will not have “broken the record” until documentation is approved by the US National Aeronautic Association followed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale – a process that could take several weeks or months.
The existing duration record they hope to beat was set in 1978 when three pilots made the first trans-Atlantic balloon flight, spending 137 hours, 5 minutes and 50 seconds in a gas balloon.
To set a new record, the Two Eagles team must stay aloft for about 138 hours and 45 minutes.
At the moment, it is not clear exactly where the Two Eagles balloon will land.
The team had been aiming for Canada but a ride of high-pressure ridge off the US West Coast forced the balloon into a sweeping right turn toward Mexico.
A network of balloon enthusiasts has been organized to act as chase crews, but correspondents says it remains unclear if the balloon will be able to land in a place where a ground crew can help them.
Felix Baumgartner has been frustrated in his attempt to make the highest ever skydive.
Unfavorable winds at Roswell, New Mexico, have prevented the launch of the helium balloon that was to take him to more than 120,000 ft (36.5 km).
Meteorologists say Thursday now looks to be next best day for a record bid.
Felix Baumgartner – famous for jumping off skyscrapers – is hoping to become the first human to break the sound barrier unaided by a vehicle.
Because of the rarity of the atmosphere at 120,000 ft, he would accelerate rapidly once he stepped out of his balloon’s capsule.
Calculations suggest he could achieve Mach 1 – thought to be around 690mph (1,110 km/h) at the target altitude – within 40 seconds.
But this will all have to wait for another day.
Unfavorable winds at Roswell have prevented the launch of Felix Baumgartner’s helium balloon
Felix Baumgartner’s 30 million cu ft (850,000 cu m) polyethylene balloon has very strict launch requirements.
Wind speeds from the ground up to about 800 ft (250 m) must not exceed 3 mph (5k m/h), or there is a chance the envelope could shred as the support team try to release it and the capsule.
And although Tuesday morning’s conditions at the surface were dead calm, the winds at times were just too gusty.
Felix Baumgartner got as far as climbing into his capsule before the mission was postponed.
The latest weather intelligence had suggested there would be a good window to get airborne, but as the balloon filled, a sudden 25-mph (40 km/h) gust twisted the envelope and knocked it flat against the ground.
That could have damaged the thin skin of the balloon and so flight controllers felt they had no option but to abort.
The current weather window for this year probably extends for another month. Beyond that and the team will likely have to return next year.
Felix Baumgartner is trying to topple records that have stood for more than 50 years.
The previous highest skydive was made by retired US Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, who leapt from a helium envelope in 1960. His altitude was 102,800 ft (31.3 km).
The adventurer first discussed seriously the idea of taking on the challenge in 2005.
Since then, he has had to battle technical and budgetary setbacks to make it happen.
What he is trying to do is extremely dangerous.
At an altitude of 120,000 ft (36.5 km), the air pressure is less than 2% of what it is at sea level, and it is impossible to breathe without an oxygen supply.
Others who have tried to break the records for the highest, fastest and longest freefalls have lost their lives in the process.
Felix Baumgartner’s team has built him a special pressurized capsule to protect him on the way up, and for his descent he will wear a next generation, full pressure suit made by the same company that prepares the flight suits of astronauts.
Although the jump has the appearance of another Felix Baumgartner stunt, his team has stressed its high scientific relevance.
The researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project say it has already provided invaluable data for the development of high-performance, high-altitude parachute systems, and that the lessons learned will inform the development of new ideas for emergency evacuation from vehicles, such as spacecraft, passing through the stratosphere.
NASA and its spacecraft manufacturers have asked to be kept informed.
Felix Baumgartner will attempt to become the first human to break the sound barrier unaided by a vehicle.
The Austrian skydiver is going to jump out of a balloon at more than 120,000ft (36.5 km) above Roswell, New Mexico.
In the near vacuum at that altitude, Felix Baumgartner should accelerate beyond about 690 mph (1,110 km/h) within 40 seconds.
If all goes well, Felix Baumgartner, 43, will open a parachute near the ground to land softly in the desert, 10 minutes later.
The adventurer – famous for jumping off skyscrapers – is under no illusions about the dangers he faces.
Where Felix Baumgartner is going, the air pressure is less than 2% of what it is at sea level, and it is impossible to breathe without an oxygen supply.
Others who have tried to break the existing records for the highest, fastest and longest freefalls have lost their lives in the process.
“If something goes wrong, the only thing that might help you is God,” says Felix Baumgartner.
“Because if you run out of luck, if you run out of skills, there is nothing left and you have to really hope he is not going to let you down.”
Felix Baumgartner will attempt to become the first human to break the sound barrier unaided by a vehicle
Weather permitting, lift-off from Roswell airport should occur about 07:00 local time (13:00 GMT).
The absolute mark for the highest skydive is held by retired US Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger.
He leapt from a balloon at an altitude of 102,800 ft (31.3km) in August 1960.
Now an octogenarian, Joe Kittinger is part of Felix Baumgartner’s team and will be the only voice talking to him over the radio during the two-and-a-half hour ascent and the 10-minute descent.
Engineers have done everything possible to limit the risks. They have built the Austrian a special pressurized capsule to carry him under the helium balloon.
Felix Baumgartner will also be wearing a next-generation, full-pressure suit, an evolution of the orange protective clothing worn by shuttle astronauts on launch.
Although the jump has the appearance of another Felix Baumgartner stunt, his team prefers to stress its high scientific relevance.
The researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project believe it will inform the development of new systems for emergency evacuation from high-performance, high-altitude vehicles. NASA and its spacecraft manufacturers have asked to be kept informed.
There are a few examples of pilots being ejected in supersonic airflows when their planes broke apart in the sky, but there is no detailed data on what happens to the human body as it goes supersonic and then, as it slows, goes subsonic again.
Felix Baumgartner will be instrumented to acquire this new data.
The concern is that he might be destabilized by shockwaves passing over his body, and that these might throw him into an uncontrolled spin.
“It’s very important he gets into a delta position,” said Felix Baumgartner’s trainer, Luke Aikins.
“This is hands at his side and his head low, ripping through the sky. This will be crucial to breaking the speed of sound and remaining stable.”
Engineers have incorporated an automatic device in his gear that would deploy a drogue stabilization chute if he gets into trouble. But the team’s medical director, former shuttle flight surgeon Dr. Jon Clark, hopes the stiffness of the pressure suit itself will suffice.
“We know that pressure suits limit mobility which we often consider as a bad thing, but in this scenario of going through the sound barrier, it actually adds a protection because it acts like an exoskeleton,” he explained.
“We don’t know what the human will endure accelerating through the sound barrier in coming back down without the aid of aircraft. And that is really the essence of the scientific goal of this mission.”
There is high confidence Felix Baumgartner will succeed in his quest. He has already completed practice jumps from 71,600 ft (21.8 km) and 97,100ft (29.6 km).
The second of these jumps he described as an extraordinary experience.
“It’s almost overwhelming,” he said.
“When you’re standing there in a pressure suit, the only thing that you hear is yourself breathing, and you can see the curvature of the Earth; you can see the sky’s totally black. It’s kind of an awkward view because you’ve never seen a black sky. And at that moment, you realize you’ve accomplished something really big.”
A suite of high-definition cameras will follow the action. Some of these will be attached to Felix Baumgartner himself.
But wary of broadcasting a tragedy to worldwide TV audiences, the organizers will be putting a 20-second delay on the live video feed.
Four GPS systems in the suit will gather the dive data required to satisfy the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) that records have indeed been broken.
“The data is recorded on an SD microcard in his chest pack,” said Brian Utley, who will file the official report to the FAI after the jump.
“I insert that card into the equipment. From that moment on, I have control over the equipment. I’m with it until Felix goes into the capsule, and when he lands I am the first person to approach him so I can take possession of that card again.”
A BBC/National Geographic documentary is being made about the project and will probably be aired in November.