KALGOORLIE, Australia (AP) _ Support crews watched for a break in the winds at a dusty town in western Australia on Sunday, ready to inflate a 17-story-high balloon and send U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett on his fifth around-the-world solo flight attempt.
About 100 spectators, many of them clutching small balloons and eating hot dogs, huddled outside the gates at Kalgoorlie's tiny airport to watch the final preparations of the 140-foot-high, 60-foot-wide silver balloon, dubbed ``Solo Spirit.''
The launch looked likely to be delayed past its midnight (noon EDT) launch time by strong surface winds, mission spokesman Keith Jenkins said.
Inflating the balloon with a mixture of hot air and helium takes about six hours and requires very light winds. Even moderate winds could catch underneath the balloon and tear it during the first stages of inflation.
Jenkins said the launch team would wait to begin inflating the balloon until the early hours of the morning, when winds were expected to drop.
Fossett, a 57-year old Chicago investment tycoon, remained optimistic.
``This is the best-prepared balloon flight I've been involved in,'' he said.
Fossett will spend about 15 days in a cramped, canary yellow capsule, breathing oxygen through a mask, eating military-style rations and sleeping no more than 45 minutes at a time for a total of four hours a day.
``The food will be dreadful,'' Fossett joked.
Jet stream winds will propel the balloon around the world at speeds up to 130 mph and altitudes reaching 30,000 feet.
The planned flight path takes him eastward around the globe in the Southern Hemisphere, and almost 90 percent of his time will be spent over water.
The adventurer has tried the solo flight four times before, said Liam Otten, a spokesman for Washington University in St. Louis, which is serving as mission control for the flight.
Fossett's first attempt to fly around the world in October 1996 started in Rapid City, S.D. and only reached New Brunswick, Canada.
A January 1997 flight began in St. Louis and made it to Saltanpur, India. The next attempt from St. Louis, in December 1997, ended with a crash landing in a wheat field in Krasnodar, southern Russia.
Fossett tried again in August 1998 with a flight from Argentina, but ran into a thunderstorm that tore open his balloon and sent him crashing into the Coral Sea, 500 miles east of Australia. He was located by French and Australian planes and rescued by an Australian yacht.
In December 1998 he attempted the flight with two other balloonists. They left from Morocco and came down near Hawaii.
They were beaten to the round-the-world record in March 1999, when Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard and English balloon instructor Brian Jones made the flight nonstop in the Breitling Orbiter.