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Column

Monsieur Domjan, What do you think about...

Pioneering Spirit?

Eco-researcher Raphael Domjan discusses a special project involving a solar-plane and the stratosphere.
 

Illustration Joe Waldron

Climate change is real-and it became palpable for me back in 2004. At the time I was traveling in southern Iceland, where I had seen impressive glaciers eleven years before. Now what I saw before me was shocking: where huge masses of ice had once stood there was now only a lake.

There's been a lot of talk about global climate change since that time, but still too little is being done about it. By using renewable energies we could slow the Earth's warming and achieve quitea lot. I want to use my project to demonstrate how huge the potential of renewable energies is. I want to open doors that were previously closed. My adventure travels are not about discovering unknown countries or breaking records. My goal is to protect our environment and to preserve biological diversity.

Those were also my motives as I set off with a crew of three in 2010 on a twenty-month circumnavigation of the planet. What was special: our catamaran was propelled by four electric engines, powered entirely by the solar modules we had on board. On the Pacific, as we were just leaving the Galapagos Islands behind us, I had my next idea. I was alone on deck at night and was gazing, fascinated, at the Milky Way. I asked myself: what would it be like if we could use solar energy to fly so high up into the sky that we could see the stars, even during the day? This marked the start of my Solar Stratos project. Our goal is to take a crewed solar plane into the stratosphere for the first time in 2019. As with our circumnavigation of the world, the aim here, too, is to improve knowledge in the area of sustainable technologies.

Twenty-two square meters of solar cells are installed on a wingspan of almost twenty-five meters.The solar cells feed the batteries, which in turn power the propellers. The ascent will takethree hours, and I plan to linger up in the stratosphereat about twenty-five kilometers of altitude for around fifteen minutes. Then the threehour descent begins. The project isn't risk-free: I will fly so high that I can survive only with a spacesuit, otherwise bubbles would form in my blood due to the extremely low air pressure. It will be the first solar-powered spacesuit. It's being designed right now - and must be 100 percent functional.

Despite all the dangers, it's these types of pioneering projects that enrich my life. I already have other new ideas. What are they? We'll see, perhaps I'll make another spontaneous decision when I lookdown at Earth from 25 kilometers up in the air.


Foto: Privat

Raphaël Domjan, 46 Jahre, is a Swiss solar energy pioneer. He is president of the Solar-Planet Foundation, which is committed to preserving and protecting the Earth. He calls himself aneco-adventurer.