/ 5 April 2011

Branson plans deep-ocean submarine dives

Branson Plans Deep Ocean Submarine Dives

Billionaire adventurer Richard Branson announced on Tuesday that he plans to travel to the deepest parts of the world’s oceans in a single-person submarine.

Branson and fellow explorer Chris Welsh will take turns over the next two years piloting the solo craft 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.

Branson plans to make the first descent later this year to the Mariana Trench, which at 10 972m is deeper than Mount Everest is high.

“Man has not explored our ocean,” the Virgin Airlines founder said in an interview at the Newport Harbour Yacht Club.

A 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”.

“If 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 5,5-metre long, white-and-blue airplane-like craft with stubby wings and a cockpit.

The carbon fibre and titanium craft will be capable of cruising for about 10km and can stay down unaided for 24 hours.

Scientific purpose
Branson said his so-called Virgin Oceanic adventure will have a scientific purpose as well and he is working with various ocean research groups.

The 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.

Branson also said that he plans to create a larger submarine that can hold more people and offer trips to tourists for a sizable fee.

Last year Branson 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 30m 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.

Branson 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.

While 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.

“It’s very hard to spend $20-million a year, even $10-million,” said Reich, former Secretary of Labour during the Clinton administration. “The super-rich are always on the lookout for new thrills and new expensive thrills.”

High-end 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 professor.

“People who are selling to the super-rich basically can’t lose,” he said. “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 the offer.” — Sapa-AP