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Up, Up And Away Once More

Wealthy balloonists Richard Branson and Steve Fossett, once rivals, are putting the final touches on their joint-effort to circle the world in a hot air balloon.

Officials at the Menara military airport in Marrakech said Sunday that the balloon was in place. If conditions are right, the launch could take place this week.

"If we make this, I think we'll all earn a place in aviation history," Fossett, a Chicago millionaire, said Sunday in an interview with Britain's Sky News.

He said he was looking forward to some company since he usually flies solo.

"It's different, but it's enjoyable being part of a team. I like the guys I'm flying with, and I think we're going to have a great time," he said.

Fossett broke his own distance record in August, traveling more than 15,200 miles before a storm damaged his balloon, sending it plunging into the sea off Australia.

Branson, the flamboyant tycoon whose Virgin company name adorns everything from record stores to an airline, has failed to accomplish the feat in four attempts.

They will be accompanied by Swedish balloonist Pers Lindstrand in the Virgin Global Challenger. They also have a backup balloon in case their main one is damaged.

The two moguls will not be free of competition. Six other teams of balloonists are said to be vying to be first to circle the globe.

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