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Duo Smashes World Distance Record In Gas Balloon

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I want you to think of a space that's about five feet by seven - basically, we're talking about the size of a king sized mattress. Now, think of living in that space for a week. Oh, and the ceiling is only five feet, so you have to spend most of the time hunched over. Well, that's what happened to the team behind the Two Eagles gas balloon. They just crossed the Pacific Ocean. Actually, it took them six days, 16 hours and 38 minutes to be exact, and yes, they had a simple toilet on board. Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev splashed down off the coast of Baja on Saturday. They smashed two long-standing world records doing it. I talked to Troy Bradley earlier, and sure, they were exposed to extreme cold and cramped quarters at 18,000 feet, but Bradley says one of the biggest challenges of the entire journey happened during that water landing.

TROY BRADLEY: I definitely get seasick (laughter).

CORNISH: Are you serious (laughter)?

BRADLEY: I am dead serious and I was very seasick on this. And Leonid did a terrific job of trying to keep my focus towards the horizon, making sure my helmet was on. I mean, everything because I was in terrible shape when we landed on the water.

CORNISH: How do you prepare for something like this? I mean, you're not exactly getting to, you know, get up and walk around, stretch your legs, all the advice you get about taking long flights.

BRADLEY: We did get, as a little bit of exercise, by getting up, and we'd have to go out and work on the ballast and things like that. And so we could actually climb up on top of the capsule, so there was a little bit of physical activity.

CORNISH: Tell us a little bit about the kind of everyday rhythm of it, right? You and your Russian copilot, Leonid Tiukhtyaev - you were in this confined space with another person - I don't know how well you know him (laughter) - for a week. I mean, what did you guys do all that time?

BRADLEY: Well, there's some free time, but our busiest time of the day was always first thing in the morning when the sun comes up and begins to heat the gas. And so we have to - in order to stay at a lower altitude - valve off some gas. And then in the evening as the sun was going down, the gas would begin to cool and contract and we'd begin to lose lift. And that's where the ballast comes in, where we start dropping off sandbags in order to maintain our altitude. And that again was a couple-hour process. During the rest of it, at night we were able to pretty much divvy up the time to get some sleep.

CORNISH: You can't sleep at the same time, right?

BRADLEY: Couldn't sleep at the same time. Somebody always had to be on watch, but we had a very wonderful time, actually, spending it together. There wasn't any feeling of invasion of each other's privacy or space or anything.

CORNISH: (Laughter) No one asking are we there yet?

BRADLEY: No, no (laughter).

CORNISH: I've actually been in a hot air balloon once and one of the things I found really jarring about it - other than the fact that you're in a basket (laughter) like, above of the earth - is this kind of silence. And can you describe, you know, what it was like in the capsule?

BRADLEY: Yes, and so since you've flown in a hot air balloon and that's what most people have experienced ballooning. And, as you know, there's an intermittent burning to keep the balloon hot enough to stay in the air, so you have that burner going off. And that kind of disturbs some of the peace. The beauty of what we were doing with the gas balloon is there's no burner. And so it's totally silent, just like you're drifting on a cloud. And it's a real magical way to fly, and especially where we were over the Pacific and sitting over, looking at the different cloudscapes and seeing the sunsets and sunrises from the balloon was absolutely magnificent.

CORNISH: You've been ballooning since you were a teenager. And I read that this trip is considered the holy grail of ballooning achievements. What's next for you?

BRADLEY: What's next (laughter)? Well, I've promised my family that I won't do any more ocean crossings, so (laughter)...

CORNISH: Oh (laughter).

BRADLEY: I've crossed the Atlantic back in 1992 making the first U.S. to Africa balloon flight. And now this one with the Pacific, so next it'll be more adventure travel and being able to take the family and going and flying in different spots.

CORNISH: Well, Troy Bradley, we're glad that you landed safely (laughter). And thank you so much for talking with us.

BRADLEY: Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.