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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sir Richard Branson's Deep-Sea Submarine to Explore Ocean's Unknown Depths

by Jaymi Heimbuch
virgin oceanic sub image

Images via Virgin Oceanic Sub set on Flickr CC

Our ocean, particularly deep ocean, is one of the least explored places on earth. We know just a fraction of what plants and animals live under the waves, and barely understand the complexity of ocean ecosystems. One part of this is because we haven't spent as much time designing and building the sophisticated tools required for diving into the deepest parts of the sea as we have building space ships. That needs to change, and Sir Richard Branson wants to be a leading figure in that change. He has unveiled the Virgin Oceanic submarine, capable of diving into even the Mariana Trench. But this will be just one of five incredible trenches the submarine is set to explore.

virgin oceanic sub image

VIrgin Oceanic is a five-journey proposal, which includes the Mariana Trench, the Puerto Rico Trench, the Diamantina Trench, the South Sandwich Trench and the Molloy Deep in the Arctic ocean.

virgin oceanic sub image

The team will be Sir Richard Branson and Chris Welsh, an American explorer, and they'll be working in conjunction with Scripps Institution of Oceanography as well as other top marine science programs. And the submarine is designed by Graham Hawks. The craft will be able to dive 37,000 feet, or about 7 miles deep (about as terrifying a trip as orbiting the moon) and will be made of carbon fiber and titanium to resist the extraordinary pressure. Also, the craft will be able to dive at a rate of 350 feet per minute, which seems quite fast and a round-trip venture to the bottom of the Mariana Trench would take about five hours.

virgin oceanic sub image

Of course, the features of the submarine that make it an exploration vessel are just as important, and it will have sensors and cameras for recording the voyages and taking measurements for scientists. Here's a video of the concept:

Virgin Oceanic states, "If we are successful in our mission with this innovative design of submarine, then we will have proven that a vehicle can be built to withstand the extreme pressures of the oceans and that it is possible to take humans at far reduced risks to the bottom of our Oceans... When we have evolved our capacity for exploration, we will unlock opportunities to discover vast areas of our planet that we currently have no knowledge of. This is our vision."

It's an inspiring vision to be sure. And if there is a team of cleaver and resourceful people who can help get explorers to the darkest places of the earth that no human has ever seen, I'm sure there will be innumerable grateful scientists and researchers excited to take part in the project.