GENEVA, Switzerland, March 20 -- The pilots of the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon are aiming for a safe landing early Sunday morning in south-west Egypt, their place in the record books secure. Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and British co-pilot Brian Jones are said to be in a state of nervous exhaustion but concentrating on making a safe landing at the end of their record-breaking 20-day journey. Meanwhile, messages of congratulation have been flooding in. The Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh said they were 'delighted' by the achievement. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair also welcomed what he called a 'fantastic achievement'. Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, who has made four unsuccessful attempts at the record himself, said:, 'It is magnificent achievement and two delightful people have achieved it and we look forward to going to Switzerland to celebrate it with them.' When the two-man crew crossed the finish line over northern Mauritania shortly before 1000 GMT (5:00 a.m. EST) a party began at Breitling mission control in Geneva with the popping of champagne corks and cheers of joy. Speaking by phone from the balloon, Jones said that he planned to 'have a cup of tea like a true Englishman.' His co-pilot Piccard, described their 'incredible' experience and said that once their balloon was down and deflated, it would be 'the beginning of a new kind of life.' The Federation Aeronautique Internationale, which regulates the event, said the balloonists had broken three records -- for distance, duration and time around the world.
The third time was the charm for Piccard, the 50-year-old Swiss psychiatrist, who has made two previous round-the-world balloon attempts. Piccard is the grandson of Auguste Piccard, the Swiss physician who invented the pressurized cabin. The elder Piccard was the first man to reach the stratosphere in a balloon and invented the Bathyscaphe, a submarine which Jacques Piccard, Bertrand's father, took down to 36,022 feet (10,916 meters), the deepest point of the globe. Jones is a 51-year-old veteran of Britain's Royal Air Force and was responsible for the construction of the capsule and flight systems abroad the balloon. According to the mission's official Web site, several conditions had to be met in order for the record to be ratified. They included: landing beyond the degree of longitude of the point of departure; covering a minimal distance corresponding to two-thirds of the circumference at the Equator; identification of the balloon at predetermined points along its route; and no touching down or refueling. The Web site offered a few points of reference for the Breitling Orbiter 3: 'It is as high as the Tower of Pisa, its envelope could hold the equivalent in volume of seven Olympic swimming pools, and its total weight is equivalent to that of a fighter plane.' ---
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