April 6, 2011

Branson Plans To Explore Deep Sea In ‘Flying’ Sub

Virgin Group founder and British billionaire Richard Branson unveiled his plans this week to pilot a mini-submarine to the deepest depths of our oceans.

The Virgin Oceanic project's first dive is set for later this year to explore the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, which is about 36,000 feet in depth. This will be followed by four other dives, which will include the Atlantic Ocean's Puerto Rico Trench at 28,232 feet underwater, the Indian Ocean's Diamantina Trench at 26,401 feet deep, the Southern Ocean's South Sandwich Trench at 23,737 feet deep and the Arctic Ocean's Molloy Deep at 18,399 feet below.

The single-seater DeepFlight Challenger submersible was bought by Chris Welsh and his company, Deep Sub, after Steve Fossett's death. The series of expeditions is sponsored by Virgin Oceanic.

Branson and Welsh will be taking turns at the controls for a total of five dives into our deepest oceans' depths. The first dive to the Mariana Trench will be piloted by Welsh, with Branson exploring the Puerto Rico Trench on its second dive.

The goal of these expeditions is to venture into areas not yet explored by man and to help contribute to the science of the oceans. In a release, Virgin Oceanic states that the expedition "offers an unprecedented opportunity to conduct scientific research and to expand our knowledge of the unique conditions, ecosystems, and geology that exist at the bottom of the oceans."

Branson told reporters, "There is just so much to explore, so much to discover. We are going to obviously come across some fascinating creatures and learn some fascinating things that will hopefully be useful for mankind."

The cost of the project is expected to be about $10 million. And one day, Branson says that the Virgin Oceanic could take passengers on a deep sea adventure.

Since the launch of Branson's chain of Virgin record stores, his business holdings have expanded into music recording and Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

Branson has set sailing records and even tried to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon. His other ventures include the Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceship that was attached to a carrier aircraft and flown over California's Mojave Desert in a three hour flight, reports Reuters.

The spacecraft is scheduled for commercial operations in 2012, with test flights being scheduled through 2011. Even with ticket prices at $200,000, more than 330 deposits for adventure journey have been received.

"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," Branson says.


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