The record-setting balloon flight sought to draw attention to climate change and the potential of renewable energy sources.
On January 28, hundreds of people gathered on Argentina's Salinas Grandes salt flats to watch pilot Leticia Marquès ascend in a hot-air balloon powered solely by the sun. Another 28,000 watched a live stream of her flight on YouTube, commenting mostly in Spanish, Korean and English.
The project, entitled 《Aerocene Pacha》, was conceived by Argentine artist-adventurer Tomás Saraceno and backed by K-pop band BTS's CONNECT art initiative. Saraceno describes the balloon as a 'sculpture'.
During its 37 minute-flight, the balloon reached an altitude of 176m and traveled 2.56km. Earlier in the week, it flew up to a maximum height of 272.1m and for a maximum duration of 1 hour and 21 minutes. In total, it set six records for solar-powered balloon flight, pending confirmation by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Unlike traditional hot-air balloons, Aerocene Pacha is not powered by a propane-gas burner. The black, ultra-thin balloon is instead filled with air using pedal-powered fans. It gains lift when its ultra-light black envelope—the fabric pocket that fills with air—absorbs heat from the sun. Flying over the white salt flats, more of the sun's light is reflected onto the balloon, creating additional lift.
'Now, for the first time in human history, we have flown a person into the air, using only the power of the sun and the air we all breathe—free of fossil fuels, solar panels, batteries, or helium,' said Saraceno, who now lives in Berlin. 'We see this as the first step into a new epoch named [the] Aerocene.'
Saraceno's low-impact epoch would succeed what's become known as the Anthropocene, in which human pollution has become the defining geological impact. The second part of the art project's name, Pacha, comes from the Andean concept of the cosmos.
Executive Editor, China, [Ocula]