Billionaire adventurer Richard Branson poses atop the Virgin Oceanic Expeditions deep sea submarine. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Billionaire adventurer Richard Branson on Tuesday
unveiled a new single-person submarine that he said will be used to set
new world records by exploring the five deepest parts of the world’s
said that over the next two years, the solo craft will go to the bottom
of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic’s Puerto Rico
Trench and South Sandwich Trench, the Diamantina Trench in the Indian
Ocean and the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean.
fellow explorer, Chris Welsh, plans to make the first descent later
this year to the Mariana Trench, which at 36,000 feet is deeper than
Mount Everest is high. Branson then plans to explore the
28,000-foot-deep Puerto Rico Trench.
the pilots for the other three trips have not been chosen, Branson said
they hope to set as many as 30 Guinness World Records with the dives.
last great challenge for humans is to explore the depths of our
planet’s oceans,” the Virgin Atlantic founder said at the Newport Harbor
Branson also said he plans to create a larger submarine that can hold more people and offer trips to tourists for a sizable fee.
news release said there was only one frontier left for Branson’s Virgin
brand, which has reached “the seven continents of the earth, up into
the jet stream and soon, even into space.”
someone says something is impossible, we like to prove it’s possible,”
Branson said. “I love learning and I’m just very fortunate to
participate in these kinds of adventures.”
Branson unveiled the submarine, a nearly 18-foot long, white-and-blue airplane-like craft with stubby wings and a cockpit.
Billionaire adventurer Richard Branson, right, and pilot Chris Welsh pose atop Virgin Oceanic Expeditions’ deep sea submarine, in which Branson, Welsh and others plan to take solo piloted expeditions to the deepest point in each of the world’s five oceans, at a news conference in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday, April 5, 2011. The first sub, which will carry one pilot, is almost 18 feet long and capable of reaching depths of about 37,000 feet. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
carbon fiber and titanium craft will be capable of cruising for about
6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and can stay down unaided for 24 hours. The
sub and its accompanying catamaran cost an estimated $17 million.
said his so-called Virgin Oceanic expedition will have a scientific and
educational purpose. He hopes the voyages will help to educate the
public about mankind’s impacts on the world’s oceans and marine life.
is partnering with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego,
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Moss Landing Marine Labs in
Northern California as well as other research institutions. Scientists
hope to study the tectonic plates and eventually use lander vehicles to
bring back water, microbes and possibly small creatures from the ocean
have 800 pounds of moon rocks and not one drop from the bottom of the
ocean,” said Alex Tai, Virgin Group director of special projects.
dives will be dangerous and the pilots will likely be down in the dark
and cold ocean depths for hours will little communication with the
outside world. Rescues will be impossible, Welsh said. Still, he was
clearly more excited than wary of the prospect, saying there is a magic
to exploring new places.
“It’s like going to the moon and having the lunar rover to explore around,” Welsh said.
dives also will be recorded and uploaded to Google Earth, said John
Hanke, the Internet search engine’s vice president of product
mission for Google Earth is to create an interactive virtual globe and
enable users to visit places that they’ve never explored, including the
world’s oceans,” he said.
submarine originally was commissioned by Branson’s close friend and
fellow adventurer Steve Fossett, who died in 2007 while flying a plane
over the Sierra Nevada. Fossett had intended to complete the first solo
dive to the Mariana Trench, Branson said.
year he unveiled a three-person submarine called the Necker Nymph,
which is available for $2,500 a day for guests of his private resort in
the Caribbean. The submarine, created by San Francisco-based Hawkes
Ocean Technologies, is capable of going almost 100 feet deep. In a
subsequent interview with Popular Mechanics, Hawkes officials said they
were also working with Branson on submersibles capable of high-speed
deep sea travel.
has also been working on a space tourism venture with the construction
of a $209 million spaceport in New Mexico. The British businessman has
said he expects to launch the first suborbital flights from Spaceport
America between mid-summer 2011 and spring 2012. Many of the 500 people
that have signed up to be astronauts have expressed interest in being
“aquanauts,” he said.
most of the country is still dealing with the daily realities of a
struggling economy, University of California, Berkeley professor Robert
Reich said the super-rich are richer today than they have ever been and
there is a market in selling them new adventures.
retailers such as Tiffany & Co. and Neiman Marcus continue to do
well despite the economy, he said. And even as NASA experiences budget
cuts, the extraordinary wealthy are willing to pay small fortunes to go
into space or into the depths of the ocean, said the public policy
who are selling to the super-rich basically can’t lose,” said Reich,
former Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration. “Richard
Branson can dig a hole to the center of the earth and charge a million
dollars a day to go through it and he’d find people to take him up on
SOURCE: The Associated Press