Having already targeted the stars with his Virgin Galactic commercial service, billionaire businessman and serial adventurer Richard Branson is now preparing to tackle theother final frontier.
More pointedly, Branson has this week revealed the “Necker Nymph”, a revolutionary “flying” mini-submarine in which he will attempt to reach the furthest depths of the planet’s five major as a pioneering “aquanaut”.
“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,” he enthused regarding his ambitions for the Virgin Oceanic craft.
“More men have been to the than have been down further than 20,000 feet,” he told AFP during the submarine’s official unveiling at Newport Harbor, near Los Angeles.
According to Branson, who will share piloting duties on the expedition with fellow adventurer Chris Welsh, the cutting-edge winged submersible will be deployed on a series of dangerous dives over a two-year period.
The first dive is scheduled for late 2011 and will see the mini-sub plunging into the Pacific Ocean’s mighty , which has a depth of 36,201 feet (or around 11km).
In order to sustain the immense pressures associated with diving to such extreme depths (around 1,000 times normal atmospheric pressure), the little 8,000lb submarine has been constructed from titanium and carbon fiber and boasts a viewing dome made entirely from quartz.
Reaching far beyond merely fulfilling the dreams of a billionaire, the Virgin Oceanic expedition will be looking to map previously unreachable parts of the planet and capture on film never-before-seen underwater life—it therefore carries with it the hopes of oceanographers and everywhere.
“From a scientific point of view, this is akin to discovering the Amazon for the first time,” said an ebullient Branson. “The amount that they’re going to discover down there is incalculable.”
Designed by Branson’s project partner Graham Hawkes, the groundbreaking Necker Nymph is expected to travel a distance of 10 kilometers on the ocean floor and can also operate autonomously for up to 24 hours.