His grandfather went higher than any human at the time and was the first to see the curvature of the Earth. His father traveled deeper in the ocean than any man has ever gone. Now Bertrand Piccard wants to follow them into the record books by flying a solar plane around the world and be the first to do so without fossil fuel. But the task ahead of Piccard and his partner Andre Borschberg may be even more dangerous than those that made names for his father and grandfather. Piccard and Borschberg speak to Bob Simon for a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT.
Piccard is a Swiss psychiatrist and the son of the late deep-sea explorer Jacques Piccard, whose nearly seven-mile ocean descent in the vessel Trieste still holds the record. But it was his grandfather Auguste's balloon ascent 10 miles up to the edge of space that influenced him to become an adventurer. "That was really impressive for me as a kid because I was reading in the history books all the stories about the Earth being flat, being round," says Piccard. "My grandfather came back and said, 'I saw the curvature of the Earth with my eyes.' So, once you live this as a kid, of course, you want to continue into that field of exploration."
Piccard won the first-ever balloon race across the Atlantic Ocean in 1992. In 1999, he went on to fly a balloon around the world without stopping - another first. Then it took 10 years and $120 million from sponsors and investors to build the special aircraft he needs for the big feat he wants to accomplish in 2015. If he makes it around the world, he hopes that the attention his flight gets will speed up the quest to harness the Earth's ultimate power source, the sun.
Thus far, he and Borschberg have flown their solar aircraft "Solar Impulse" 2,500 miles from Switzerland to Africa and back. Borschberg has remained aloft in it for an entire night - it is the only solar aircraft that can fly at night -- and he spent 72 straight hours in a flight simulator. They hope to attempt a trans-continental flight across the U.S. next year. But circumnavigating the globe and flying over the Pacific Ocean for five of the 20 days they estimate it will take, poses considerable dangers for Piccard and Borschberg.
The long-winged, four-engine plane is constructed of state-of-the-art lightweight components and is so light, it is extremely vulnerable in a storm. It needs several hours of sunlight each day to recharge the 12,000 solar cells built into its wings. If the plane finds too many clouds over the Pacific, it could run out of juice. Regardless, Piccard says he is ready. "Everything you do, you have to do it because you're well prepared and you're absolutely calm inside yourself," he tells Simon. And Piccard the psychiatrist has an advantage over other would-be daredevils: "I use a lot of self-hypnosis."