Thursday, January 7, 2010

(Fly Around) The World Without Fossil Fuels

Bertrand Piccard circumnavigated the Earth in a hot-air balloon. Now he wants to circle it in an airplane powered only by solar energy.

For the dawn of a new decade, adventurer Bertrand Piccard in this TED Talk offers us a challenge: Find motivation in what seems impossible. He shares his own plans to do what many say can't be done -- to fly around the world, day and night, in a solar-powered aircraft.

Bertrand Piccard was born in a family of firsts. His father, Jacques, together with Dan Walsh of the US, was the first man to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans, the Mariana Trench, in 1960. Almost 30 years earlier, his grandfather, Auguste, first ballooned into the stratosphere. While they went up and down, Bertrand went horizontal and in 1999, together with Brian Jones of Britain, completed the first-ever nonstop balloon circumnavigation of the globe, flying more than 45,000 km in 20 days.

Now, in a hangar near Zurich, a team of scientists and engineers around Piccard and co-pilot André Borschberg is building Solar Impulse, an unconventional aircraft designed to circumnavigate the Earth powered by solar energy, flying day and night (yes, when the Sun is "off"). The just-unveiled prototype has the weight of a car but the wingspan of an Airbus. Piccard hopes for test flights in the first half of 2010, and possibly a long flight in 2011, before attempting to fly around the Earth.

In a world depending on fossil energies, the Solar Impulse project is a paradox, almost a provocation: it aims to have an airplane take off and fly autonomously, day and night, propelled uniquely by solar energy, right round the world without fuel or pollution. An unachievable goal without pushing back the current technological limits in all fields...

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