Sir Richard Branson, the famous mogul and chief executive behind the Virgin Media Empire, has taken on the sky, the earth and now he has his sights set on a new frontier: the ocean.
Branson has announced the Virgin Oceanic and Five Dives initiative. The goal is to send a single pilot to the deepest parts of the Earth's five major oceans in a Virgin-branded deep sea submarine. It would be a first in the history of deep sea exploration. Branson announced the initiative at a press conference in Newport Beach, Calif.
With space long ago reached by man, and commercial spaceflight tantalizingly close, the last great challenge for humans is to reach and explore the depths of our planet's oceans. The submarine will travel to the deepest trenches in our oceans and will allow its pilot not only to reach these depths but to explore for 10 kilometers on each of the dives, Branson wrote on his blog.
Branson said the mission is to assist science in understanding our ecosystem and raise awareness of the challenges facing our Oceans. He said Virgin will work with scientific institutions to collect data and catalogue life forms that will never have been seen before by human eyes. Further, he is looking to prove vehicles can be built to withstand the most extreme pressures of the sea floor.
The company building the vessel, which is named DeepFlight Challenger, is Hawkes Ocean Technologies out of Point Richmond, Calif. It has speeds of up to three knots and can dive at 350 feet per minute. Its carbon fiber and titanium exterior is rated to withstand pressure up to 37,000 feet below the surface -- deeper than any submarine vessel ever made. A typical nuclear attack submarines can go to about 2,400 feet, and the vessel with the greatest depth range, the Japanese submersible Shinkai, can reach 21,000 feet.
According to Branson, the initiative will take place over the next two years. Branson himself will pilot the vessel that will explore the Atlantic. He said he will take it to the Puerto Rico Trench, more than 28,000 feet down.
The Pacific Ocean mission will piloted by chief pilot Chris Welch to the Marianas Trench, which at 36,201 feet is the deepest known trench on the planet. The Indian Ocean dive will head to the Diamantina Trench, 26,401 feet below the surface; the Southern Ocean dive is going to South Sandwich Trench, at 23,737 feet; and last the Arctic Ocean dive will go to the Molloy Deep, at 18,399 feet.
Branson said the company is partnering with Google on the initiative. Using their mapping technology, Google hopes to chronicle the dives as they happen and share discoveries, footage and record breaking achievements with the world, he wrote.
A photo gallery is here.
Credit: Virgin Media