Piccard: Swiss explorer forever seeking new heights

Piccard: Swiss explorer forever seeking new heights
Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard (wearing a traditional Omani turban) and Andre Borschberg celebrate after Solar Impulse 2 landed in the Omani capital Muscat on March 9, 2015, completing the initial leg of its epic bid to become the first solar-powered plane to fly around the world.

GENEVA - "Nothing is impossible" has been the constant mantra of record-breaking Swiss explorer Bertrand Piccard, who is attempting to make history again with the first round-the-world solar flight.

Piccard and his compatriot Andre Borschberg are attempting to complete the trip on a fully sun-powered plane, Solar Impulse 2.

Borschberg on Monday completed the first leg of the marathon journey, expected to be a five month voyage with the two pilots taking turns flying the one-seater plane.

Piccard is the scion of a dynasty of trailblazers: his grandfather Auguste was the first man to climb to the stratosphere in a balloon while his father Jacques was the first to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans.

Born on March 1, 1958 in the picturesque lakeside city of Lausanne, Piccard was greatly inspired by his illustrious forebears and was fascinated by challenge from a very early age.

He has said a defining moment in his life was the lift-off of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969 which landed the first humans on the moon.

The 11-year-old Piccard got to witness the historic moment live from Cape Canaveral, Florida since Wernher von Braun, the inventor of the Apollo rockets, was a family friend.

"The moment was a turning point in my life," he says on his website.

"There and then I thought: 'These astronauts, who are now setting off for the moon, have a dream, and that dream is greater than the fear of failure. These heroes dare to do the impossible. They are doing something that no human being has done before them. That is true pioneering spirit.'"

From a very early age, Piccard was fascinated by human behaviour in extreme situations, and got a degree in psychiatry from the University of Lausanne.

He also obtained licenses to fly balloons, aeroplanes, gliders and motorised gliders and became one of the pioneers of hang gliding and microlight flying in Europe during the 1970s.

On March 1, 1999 Piccard and fellow adventurer Brian Jones set off from Switzerland on the first non-stop balloon circumnavigation of the globe without using any fuel.

The two men, in close touch with a team of meteorologists on the ground, caught rides in a series of jet streams that saw them land in Egypt after a flight lasting nearly 20 days.

'Everyone has dreams'

"Everyone has dreams," Piccard said. "The only thing is that there are those who know they are achievable and do everything they can to make them come true and there are those who don't believe so."

The Solar Impulse 2 plane that launched its maiden journey Monday is the successor of Solar Impulse, which proved its ability to store enough power in lithium batteries during the day to keep flying at night.

The initial Solar Impulse plane was put through its paces in Europe, crossed the Mediterranean to reach Morocco and traversed the United States in 2013 without using a drop of fossil fuel.

"Very often human beings are living like on autopilot, reacting automatically with what happens," Piccard says.

"What interests me about the life of an explorer is you are in the unknown; you are out of your habits. You are obliged to produce new answers to what life is bringing to you. These are the moments that wake you up from the automatic."

Piccard is also passionate about spirituality and hypnosis and has authored several books, including a self-help guide to achieving a better and more balanced life.

His other pet obsession is environmental protection, and he recently told AFP he hoped the Solar Impulse achievements would prove broader use of sustainable energy is possible.

"Renewable energy is no longer restricted to a small ecological niche," he said, insisting it now provided "an extraordinary development for industry, for job creation, for conquering new markets while protecting the environment at the same time."

Piccard hopes the Solar Impulse 2 will help drive home this message across the world.

"What we need to do now is convince the political and the industrial world that this is the direction we need to go in," Piccard said.

 

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