ST. LOUIS -- Chicago millionaire Steve Fossett on Friday pressed his quest to become the first balloonist to circle the globe solo, soaring high above the South Pacific with an eye to the sky for storm clouds -- and space shuttle debris.
More than a quarter into his trek that began Saturday in Australia, Fossett's helium-filled "Solo Spirit" skirted a Pacific Ocean zone where the Discovery and other space shuttles generally jettison external fuel tanks after their launches.
Fossett's mission control at Washington University noted "the chances of Solo Spirit being hit are extremely remote," given that the tanks typically burn up in the atmosphere.
Fossett, 57, appeared unperturbed. About the time the Discovery roared into orbit late Friday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a mission to the international space station, he was snoozing with the balloon on autopilot.
In his fifth bid to become the first balloonist to circle the globe alone, Fossett by Friday evening was cruising at 75 mph at about 23,600 feet. Fossett has traveled more than 6,000 miles since his launch and passed Tahiti earlier Friday.
Fossett could reach the South American coast within days as part of a journey that could take 12 to 20 days.
About 2 a.m. Friday, Fossett had completed of a quarter of his trip.
"I'm relieved that things are working as well as they are," Fossett told his mission control. "Now I just want to fly the next quarter faster, although the goal is worth whatever time it takes."
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