Billionaire explorer Sir Richard Branson plans to take a single-person submarine to the deepest points in each of the world's five oceans, the first time such a feat has ever been attempted.
Branson's Virgin Oceanic submarine aims to make five dives over a two-year period and set up to 30 Guinness World Records. It plans to venture to the bottom of Mariana Trench (Pacific Ocean), Puerto Rico Trench (Atlantic Ocean), South Sandwich Trench (Southern Ocean), the Diamantina Trench (Indian Ocean) and the Molloy Deep (Artic Ocean).
Unlike Branson's other projects, the public will not be able to purchase a seat on one of the deep diving subs. The explorations are a part of an initiative to learn more about our planet's oceans.
"What if I were to tell you about a planet inhabited by 'intelligent' beings that had, in the 21st century, physically explored zero percent of its deepest points and mapped only three percent of its oceans by unmanned craft, when 70 percent of that planet's surface was made up of water?" Branson asked in a statement.
"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 ... that planet is Earth," Branson said.
Fellow explorer Chris Welsh is set to make the first dive later in 2011 into the Mariana Trench using one of Branson's vehicles, which is a whopping 36,201-feet deep – a depth that has yet to be reached by mankind. The craft, which will cruise at a max of 3 knots and can dive 350 feet per minute, is expected to take a total of five hours to go to the bottom of Mariana trench and back.
At these depths, each individual part of the sub must be able to withstand enormous pressures – about 1,500 times that of an airplane. Full pressure testing of the submarines will be conducted over the next three months, the company said.
The other four dives will be scheduled over the next 24 months. Branson plans to pilot the second exploration, which will go into the Puerto Rico trench (28,000 ft. deep).
Virgin Oceanic is working with various scientific institutions to collate data and catalogue life forms that will never have been seen and are unknown to science.
In addition, the expedition will also be partnering with Google Earth, where the dives will be recorded and publicly archived on the site.