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Around the world in 20 days — on solar power

Solar Impulse greets the dawn after flying all night on solar power. (Photo: CBS/60 Minutes)

Solar Impulse greets the dawn after flying all night on solar power. (Photo: CBS/60 Minutes)

Solar Impulse, an aircraft powered only by the sun, is preparing for a 20-day (and 20-night) round-the-world flight in 2015.

That, at least, is the goal of its Swiss creators Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. Bertrand is a psychiatrist who learned to fly just 6 years ago. Andre is a pilot and engineer who had never built an airplane before Solar Impulse.

A series of shorter flights have proven the plane’s airworthiness and a recent all-night flight, using solar energy stored in batteries during the day, has opened the door to longer flights. While not the world’s first solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse is the first to fly all night.

The complete story aired on tonight’s “60 Minutes.” You can watch the entire segment or read the transcript at CBS News. The plane is beautiful; the technology is exciting; the story is inspiring. You won’t be sorry.

10 Comments »

  1. Wow, this is so cool PT! I missed this one from tonight’s show and will so go to the site to check it out! 😀

    BTW, did you see the report about the N. Korean escapee? I’m thinking about posting the video…

  2. I’ve been thinking (for over a decade) that cargo ships ought to be using a combination of wind and solar power. Yeah, stuff will take longer to ship, so maybe it’s not so good for perishables, but consumer electronics and vehicles and that? Come one! Isn’t it worth the price of waiting a little instead of burning oil to move stuff? I mean, it’s going to get there eventually.

  3. I hesitate to rain on this parade, this airplane is a thing of beauty and triumph of engineering. But in respect of honesty and as a battery engineer, I must drizzle. This is not a demonstration of the power of solar energy but of battery technology. The feat is being accomplished by combining the refinement of aviation design with a significant achievement in battery chemistry. The lithium-ion chemistry is only possible through the most exacting manufacturing standards for thin-film chemistry, and in this regard it is similar to the advancements in electronics. Robotics and the finest of quality control standards are essential to both processes and so the results are not only marvelous but more vulnerable than ever before in history. Any number of things could happen to overturn this progress – for example a financial crisis undermining the investment in complex factories or a solar flare blowing out solid-state components in every vehicle and almost every machine on earth. This is different from the nineteenth century,for example, when average human beings were capable of re-creating necessary products in the wake of disasters. We are living atop a house of cards. But hey, let’s enjoy it as long as we may (not that we have any choice). The good times could last a millennium or more, and it’s beautiful to see.

    What a marvelous picture!

    • Drizzle away! There are shortcomings with every technology and the development of solar power has long been intertwined with the development of practical, lightweight batteries. Likewise, the cost of development has always a hurdle for new technologies. Currently it’s the primary objection to developing alternative sources of power — and, not surprisingly, is advanced most often by existing industries like gas, oil, and coal. The costs, of course, will never go down if we don’t keep working on development and practical application. And the different perils that threaten each energy source make the argument for alternative sources just that much more compelling. We shouldn’t be putting all our eggs in the oil/gas basket. Nor do I believe we can achieve energy independence with only gas, oil, and coal. We don’t have enough of those. We need the alternative sources. And the sooner the better.

      Let the good times roll, indeed. Let ’em all roll!

      Did you watch the segment? Piccard is a poet,/philosoper too. He spoke of the sunrise in this picture being a new day, full of promise, and how uplifting it was to greet it.

      Hell, if we aren’t going to fly to the moon anymore, let’s at least try flying around the world on solar power.

"Nothing is more dangerous than ignorance and intolerance armed with power." ~ Voltaire

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