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2 balloonists in Australia abandon global attempt

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ALICE SPRINGS, Australia -- Two balloonists have abandoned a bid Friday to float around the world nonstop after Australia's outback weather repeatedly thwarted efforts to get airborne.

As red, desert dust settled on the balloon that was meant to carry him to the edge of space, American property tycoon Dave Liniger said he had no regrets but would try again next December."We are coming back, we are not going to quit this project," Liniger told Reuters.

His disappointment was shared by dozens of journalists who had waited since December 27 to see him and co-pilot John Wallington, an Australian ballooning champion, lift off.

The pair had hoped to become the first balloonists to lap the world by flying at an altitude of nearly 24 miles -- a daring strategy designed to avoid weather problems that have plagued other, low-altitude attempts at the record.

Riding stratospheric winds that blow steadily at southern latitudes from late December to early January, they aimed to ring the globe in 16 to 18 days in a capsule fixed to a weather balloon the size of a 40-story building.

Dubbed the "balloonitics" by sceptical onlookers, they wore Russian spacesuits and were to brave temperatures well below freezing and a near vacuum in air pressure.

But weather on the ground -- wind, rain and thunderstorms -- defeated them. After two weeks in the outback, where the air was thick with flies and shimmered in summer heat of over 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit), the disappointment was felt deeply.

Millionaire balloonists Richard Branson and Steve Fossett had also failed in recent attempts to circumnavigate the globe but, as some skeptics here remarked, at least they got off the ground.

Liniger was philosophical. "Anything that you try to do that is very unique is controversial. The truth of the matter is most things that have a real high value are not an overnight success, but I can't blame somebody for being skeptical," he said.

The balloon's roof of solar panels, needed to power life support and other systems, might not have survived a windy launch.