Sir Richard Branson and explorer Chris Welsh attend a press conference in Newport Beach, California, to announce plans to take a solo piloted submarine to the deepest points in each of the world’s five oceans.
Virgin Oceanic is a five-journey proposal, in which they’ll hit the Mariana Trench (Pacific), Puerto Rico Trench (Atlantic), Diamantina Trench (Indian), South Sandwich Trench (Southern), and Molloy Deep (Arctic). “They” is Sir Richard Branson (whose cojones can only be measured in cubic miles at this point) and Chris Welsh, an American pilot and explorer. The Puerto Rico Trench is the deepest trench known and has never been explored.
To make the dives, Virgin has built a custom submarine and a flashy promotional video (see below). The sub’s cockpit has a bubble-like dome made of quartz, which can withstand 13 million pounds of pressure across its surface, Virgin says.
Overall, the sub looks a bit like an airplane, the better to “fly” to its underwater destinations. It weighs 8,000 pounds, is made of carbon fiber and titanium, and is rated to withstand pressure up to 37,000 feet below the surface. It’s not fast, though, with a maximum speed of just 3 knots and the ability to dive at 350 feet per minute, so its life-support systems are meant to last up to 24 hours.