For most of the world Steve Fossett burst onto the ballooning scene barely ten months ago with his dramatic and highly successful solo crossing of the Pacific Ocean. Before that flight, few in ballooning circles had ever heard of Steve Fossett, yet in less than a year he would launch an attempt to fly around the world, solo. As we noted in our first report on Fossett, ten months ago after that Pacific flight, capturing "firsts" is what drives Steve Fossett. Being first around the world solo is what drives Fossett’s interest in ballooning.
What follows are excerpts from a lengthy interview Balloon Life conducted with Fossett just one week after his unsuccessful bid to be first around the world in a balloon.
Balloon Life: Launching two major world record flight attempts of the magnitude you have in less than a year is a remarkable feat. Did the around the world attempt grow out of the success of your Pacific crossing or has this been your goal all along?
Steve Fossett: My interest in getting involved in ballooning was [and is] to make an around the world attempt, so I started taking it a step at a time. I got licensed, then flew the Atlantic with Tim Cole, decided I wanted to pursue the solo approach and flew the Pacific. So it has all been a logical progression. In fact, on my Pacific flight I did have the duration and supplies to make an around the world attempt.
BL: In other words had conditions been right you would have continued on
instead of landing in Canada?
SF: If my equipment had held out I would have kept going and I had a very clear shot at getting to Europe in only a matter of three or four days from where I actually landed.
BL: Equipment failure ended the Global Challenger attempt as well. and one of
your first comments upon emerging from the capsule was that you felt embarrassed. An
odd emotion for anyone who has accomplished what you have in such a short time.
SF: I must tell you first that that’s the comment that drew the strongest reaction from my friends. I’ve had a number of them call and tell me how wrong I was to feel any embarrassment.
BL: Would the disappointment have been lessened if you had crossed the
Atlantic only to abort somewhere over Europe?
SF: If we were closer to succeeding, let’s say we’d had only half as many equipment problems and I’d made it across the Atlantic, then I would feel that we are a lot closer to success on the next try.
BL: That of course raises the question will the be another Steve Fossett
SF: If we can solve the problems, I’d like to try again. And we’ve been digging into this, trying to understand the problems right now; the whole team has been working on this so we’ll probably know in about a month whether we have a game plan for next year.
BL: Would another attempt be thwarted by the success of one of the other
SF: That would certainly be an influence although it wouldn’t rule out trying to fly next year.
BL: There is still the first solo flight around the world...
SF: Yes, and I think that would be an important achievement very much in the spirit of ballooning, to be able to fly an unpressurized capsule solo around the world.
BL: How much pressure did this so-called race bring to your effort.? Were you
really ready to go, did you rush anything, did you feel the pressure to go knowing that
the Branson/Lindstrand team were staging and talking about launching within days or
even hours of your actual launch?
SF: We had a good situation for launch, such that you can only hope to get two maybe three opportunities in a season that would provide such a fast trajectory around the world. We were looking at getting around the world in less than 15 days, that’s what the original trajectory provided. So I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity like that.
BL: Do you have a renewed sense of just how difficult an undertaking such a
flight can be?
SF: No question I think we have underestimated the difficulty, especially in the area of keeping equipment working at high altitude and in the cold.
BL: The Odyssey team has let it be known they were disappointed that the
media focused so much attention on only you and Branson, ignoring certainly
themselves and to a large degree Henk Brink as other competitors in this race.. Did you
have any sense of this in the aftermath of your flight?
SF: I wouldn’t blame the media for that. They want to cover a story they know is there, they want to see that a team is going to fly. By virtue of these three teams, the Dutch, British and me actually staging the equipment and intending launch then the media could see that this was really going to happen. When the Odyssey project starts rolling out their equipment and get ready to fly the media will be with them too.
BL: You now have another ten months before the next window of opportunity
will open for an around the world flight. Obviously you and your team will be
troubleshooting and rebuilding for the next flight, but what else is on Steve Fossett’s
SF: Well you may not read about it because my other sports are not so newsworthy, but in sailing, beginning in February and continuing into the Spring we’ll be out in the Pacific setting some new world records.