Russian launches balloon in Australia in record attempt

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A Russian balloonist launched his helium balloon from an Australian Outback town on Tuesday in a bid to set a record for flying around the world non-stop.

Fedor Konyukhov launched his 52-meter (170-foot) tall balloon from the same field outside Northam in Western Australia state where American adventurer Steve Fossett started his circumnavigation of the globe in 2002.

The 65-year-old hopes to complete the journey in a cramped gondola in less than the 13 days that Fossett took. Fossett died in a plane crash in 2007.

Australian entrepreneur and adventurer Dick Smith said Konyukhov was the most likely person to break Fossett's record.

"He's an incredible adventurer. He's what I call a responsible risk taker," Smith told reporters at Northam.

"I sat in the gondola last night with him, it's an incredibly complex piece of machinery," he said. "He's also prepared to take quite high levels of risk."

From Northam, 96 kilometer (60 miles) northeast of the state capital Perth, the 1.6 metric ton (1.8 U.S. ton) balloon is expected to fly east across Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa before returning to Australia after drifting more than 30,000 kilometers (19,000 miles).

The launch was originally scheduled for July 2, but weather conditions forced a delay.