'Flying' submarine: Richard Branson shifts sights from outer space to deep sea

'Flying' submarine? British tycoon Richard Branson on Tuesday unveiled the one-man Virgin Oceanic Sub, which is capable of diving seven miles underwater to the deepest points in the ocean.

Alex Gallardo/Reuters
British tycoon Richard Branson poses on top of a solo piloted 'flying' submarine at a news conference in Newport Beach, Calif., on April 5. Branson announced plans to launch the submarine to the deepest points of the world's five oceans.

Richard Branson aims to go where no man has gone before.


As if the idea of launching himself into outer space on his own shuttle was not exciting enough, the British mogul has now launched a project to ride a one-man submarine to the deepest depths of the ocean.

Mr. Branson on Tuesday unveiled Virgin Oceanic, the newest branch of the multifaceted Virgin Group best known for its music and airline companies. The undersea program aims to set some 30 Guinness World Records as it makes five dives in five oceans over two years in the world's only submarine capable of taking a human to the bottom of each sea.

"What if I were to tell you about a planet, inhabited by ‘intelligent’ beings that had, in the 21st Century, physically explored 0 percent of its deepest points and mapped only 3 percent of its oceans by unmanned craft, when 70 percent of that planet’s surface was made up of water," Branson wrote on his blog Tuesday. "Then I tried to convince you that only 10 percent of the life forms inhabiting that unknown world, are known to those on the surface – you’d think I’d fallen asleep watching the latest sci-fi blockbuster! Then you discover that planet is Earth..."

In a sleek CGI video, the fish-like Virgin Oceanic Sub dives deeper than is capable by a sperm whale (3,000 meters) or the most advanced currently operating Russian submersible (6,000 meters), nearly seven miles below the surface to the Marinas Trench in the Pacific Ocean, which at 36,201 feet is the deepest known point in the ocean.

Branson himself will pilot the dive to the Puerto Rico Trench (28,232-foot) – the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean. In a statement, he said the mission behind the Virgin Oceanic Expedition is to "assist science in understanding our eco system and raise awareness of the challenges facing our Oceans."

The team will sample microbes, water, and sediment. With the help of Google, the team will also map the unexplored ocean floor.

Until now, Branson has shown more interest in flying high than in going deep. A leader in the emerging space tourism industry, Branson in December 2009 unveiled the SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic's commercial spaceliner built to fly passengers on suborbital thrill rides. Over the past year it has conducted a number of successful test flights.

The intrepid Branson certainly shows no timidness – a flaw he sees in today's global businessmen.

As the Monitor reported recently, the billionaire has bemoaned that today's schools fail to teach future entrepreneurs how to take risks while wasting time "overeducating" them on less practical things.

Perhaps the students might set down "Wealth of Nations" and read a little Jules Verne.

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