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Taoism helped Solar Impulse 2

Updated: 2015-04-17 07:37
By TAN YINGZI (China Daily)

Taoism helped Solar Impulse 2

Pilots of the Solar Impulse 2 Bertrand Piccard (L)and Andre Borschberg make a speech in Bashu Middle School, March 31. [Photo/Xinhua]

As a young psychiatrist, Bertrand Piccard traveled around China for three weeks in 1992, learning about qigong, a traditional Chinese health and exercise system, and the Chinese philosophy of Taoism.

He learned from Taoism that one can find unity in opposites. For example, clean technology can protect the environment as well as stimulate the economy.

Now the 57-year-old doctor and his co-pilot, Andre Borschberg, are flying a solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse 2, around the globe to demonstrate the possibilities of clean technology and promote public awareness of sustainable development.

"Probably the study of Taoism helps me a lot going to that dimension," he said at a hotel close to Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, where the Solar Impulse team was waiting to take off for Nanjing.

"I would not have done this without my study of Taoism."

Piccard was born into a family of explorers and scientists. In 1931, his grandfather, Auguste, a physicist, and Paul Kipfer became the first men to safely ascend into the stratosphere in a balloon.

In 1960, his father, Jacques, together with Dan Walsh, became the first to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. Their dive proved the existence of fish and shrimp living at those depths and was successful in bringing about the cancellation of plans to dump waste in the trench.

"In my education, there was a combination of scientific exploration and environmental protection. Something exciting combined with something useful," he said.

Thanks to his father, he had the opportunity to meet many explorers during his childhood. He visited NASA in the US and witnessed the launch of six rockets at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"This gave me the impression that if you have a dream, you can fulfill it," Piccard said.

He decided to explore the human mind by studying psychiatry and psychotherapy. He became an expert in hypnotherapy, teaching and supervising at the Swiss Medical Hypnosis Society.

He has always been interested in the study of human behavior in extreme conditions. He was one of the pioneers of hang gliding and ultralight flying during the 1970s. He became the European hang glider aerobatics champion in 1985.

"He has found a link between work and exploration," said his wife, Michele. "He always comes back with new ideas from those adventures."

As the head of corporate communications for Solar Impulse, Michele Piccard used her public relations expertise to help her husband fulfill his dream.

In 1999, together with Englishman Brian Jones, he completed the first nonstop balloon circumnavigation of the globe, flying more than 45,000 kilometers in 20 days.

The constant worry about lack of gas during the journey made him think about how to travel without having to depend on fuel. In 2002, after discussions with US experts, Piccard started working on a solar-powered aircraft with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

In 2003, Piccard and co-pilot Borschberg officially launched the Solar Impulse project and started to build an aircraft powered only by the sun.

Piccard, as the president, is in charge of fundraising and public relations. Borschberg, the CEO, is responsible for aircraft construction and flight planning.

"We are a perfect combination," Piccard said. "It is one plus one equals three."

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