In 1931, a Swiss explorer named Auguste Piccard took a record-breaking balloon flight to over 50,000 feet in the air. A few years later, he realized that modifying his balloon cockpit could create a new kind of cockpit—a bathyscaphe—that is capable of descending deep into the ocean.
This May, his grandson Bertrand Piccard will extend his grandfather’s legacy of exploration, piloting a completely solar-powered airplane across the U.S., from San Francisco to New York City, over the course of two months (the plane will make four stops along the way). Just as his grandfather’s balloon cockpit led to unexpected deep-sea innovation, the plane, dubbed Solar Impulse, is already having effects outside the aerospace industry. Because let’s be honest: a solar-powered plane isn’t very practical.
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