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Adventure defines Steve Fossett

  • Story Highlights
  • Steve Fossett holds records in sailing, aviation and ballooning
  • Best known for his 2002 solo balloon flight around the world
  • Fossett will attempt to break the land speed record in November
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By Peggy Mihelich
CNN
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(CNN) -- Adventure might as well be Steve Fossett's middle name. The man has spent most of his life breaking and setting records in sailing, aviation and ballooning.

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"I plan to be setting and breaking records indefinitely," aviation pioneer Steve Fossett said in 2006.

In 2002 he achieved the first solo balloon flight around the world, traveling 20,626 miles in 14 days. In 2005 he completed the first solo, nonstop, nonrefueled airplane trip around the world in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. A year later he used GlobalFlyer again to break the world's flight distance record, traveling more than 26,000 miles in 76 hours.

Fossett went missing Tuesday after taking off in a small plane in western Nevada. A massive search is under way.

Fossett was born on April 22, 1944, in Jackson, Tennessee. He married Peggy Viehland in 1968, the couple have no children.

He made his millions working as a commodities trader. He sold his firm Lakota Trading, which he formed in 1980, becoming a multimillionaire.

"When I was 12 years old I climbed my first mountain, and I just kept going, taking on more diverse and grander projects," Fossett told CNN.com in 2006.

He's credited with 115 world records or world firsts, and holds official world records in five sports, according to his Web site.

He is known for his fearlessness, but says he's actually a risk averse person. "I don't do any of this for the thrills. I'm doing them for the personal achievement," he said.

His greatest achievement was the 2002 solo balloon flight around the world, also his personal favorite.

"The flight was much more difficult then I'd ever imagined it would be. I tried six times over the course of six years before succeeding," he said.

In 2005 he partnered with one-time ballooning rival Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson to fly the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer on a nonstop flight around the world. The trip tested Fossett's endurance, but was relatively event free. A year later, when he used the plane to set the flight distance record, things didn't go as well.

During the first four hours of the flight, Fossett lost 750 pounds of fuel and had "barely enough fuel to complete the trip."

He suffered from sleep deprivation and rough turbulence that almost ripped his single-engine turbofan aircraft.

Minutes after officially setting the world record over Shannon, Ireland, Fossett lost electricity aboard the plane and had to perform an emergency landing in Bournemouth, on the coast of southern England.

He landed the aircraft safety but blew out two tires in the process.

Fossett stood still long enough to write about his life's passion for breaking world records in his 2006 book, "Chasing the Wind."

"I hope the book will stimulate people to think about what more they can do. Everyone should figure out what they are most interested in, and make a plan to pursue those goals," he said.

In the past few years Fossett has focused on gliders -- his greatest passion.

"I flew a glider into the stratosphere to conduct scientific, metrological research. I flew down into the Polar vortex -- the winds that circulate Antarctica at high speed and high level and are very much involved in the Ozone hole. Being able to fly into the Polar vortex opens up possibilities of additional research into the Earth's climate," he said.

Even at 63, he has no intentions of slowing down.

In November 2007, Fossett will attempt to break the land speed record in a turbojet powered car. "I hope to break 800 miles an hour in 40 seconds."

"I will need to drive it supersonic in order to break the existing record which is 763 miles an hour," Fossett explained.

"I imagine that when I'm 80 years old and sitting in a wheelchair that I might do something like take a remote control airplane and try and fly it around the world," he said. "I plan to be setting and breaking records indefinitely." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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