Branson Knows Which Way the Wind Blows

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If the round-the-world ballooning attempt by Richard Branson and his team is ever set to music, the tune for the past few days will be "First There Is a Mountain" -- both geographically and politically -- as the ICO Global balloon hovered high over the Himalayas and then briefly faced even more impenetrable obstacles from Chinese authorities, who finally relented and let them pass through their airspace. Today, continuing through the Donovan catalog, the theme song is "Catch the Wind" -- and have they ever: Now well ensconced in the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean, the balloon is moving eastward at speeds of up to 150 mph, which is the kind of time they'll need to make to reach Europe before their fuel runs out.

Although the Pacific winds are a crucial boost, they are also what makes this the most dangerous leg of the journey: Right now the balloonists are headed straight for a weather pattern that could spell serious trouble for the helium-and-hot-air craft, just as it did for team member Steve Fossett, who fell thousands of feet and was nearly killed by a storm in the South Pacific during his last ballooning attempt. Shipping traffic gets pretty sparse in the vast reaches of the Pacific, and no one wants to find out how long it would take to be rescued. But if current conditions prevail for the next 12 to 24 hours, everything should be fine, according to the crew. One Donovan song they don't want to be singing is "Atlantis."