He may have joked about buying Pluto on April Fool's Day, but Sir Richard Branson's latest brand adventure is no joke.
In his latest quest to prove the elasticity of his brand (and imagination), Branson today officially unveiled Virgin Oceanic, a two-year deep sea mission "to assist science in understanding our eco system and raise awareness of the challenges facing our Oceans."
With the tagline "Five Dives, Five Oceans, One Planet," the scientific expedition was announced during Earth Month with the goal of exploring the deepest points in the world's oceans, but it won't be a sightseeing expedition.
The Virgin-backed diving expedition will see Branson pilot the Virgin Oceanic submarine (below) in a bid to map the ocean floors and assist in collecting samples of "microbes, water and sediment to give scientists the chance to explore novel life and the inhospitable environments they survive in."
He's determined to explore "the last frontiers of our own Blue Planet: the very bottom of our seas" by piloting the eight-foot-long Virgin Oceanic on five missions — the five deepest dives in history.
The news didn't come as a complete surprise. The British billionaire is an ardent adventurer and sailor, and loves a good challenge. Indeed, he has been talking about this as far back as 2009, when he told TIME magazine,
"The oceans need exploring — we know nothing about what's going on under 25,000 feet. I have an island called Necker Island, and 15 miles from there is the deepest place in the whole of the Atlantic, the Puerto Rican Trench. It's quite likely that we'll set up a scientific and exploration center on Necker to send out expeditions to explore that trench and other trenches in the world."
As Branson noted in a blog post today, Google is on board as a partner: "Using their mapping technology, Google hopes to chronicle the dives as they happen and share discoveries, footage and record breaking achievements with the world."
"We may well set a few Guinness World Records while we’re at it - up to 30 I believe! Each dive will be the world’s first solo dive to the bottom of the five deepest trenches in the world," the adventurer added. "So there’s 5 just to start with! We will discover a whole new world. A world full of undiscovered species and for those who dream, a world where Spanish galleons have lain unplundered for centuries!" (Yes, he's excited.)
The rationale, he explained:
"What if I were to tell you about a planet, inhabited by ‘intelligent’ beings that had, in the 21st Century, physically explored 0% of its deepest points and mapped only 3% of its oceans by unmanned craft, when 70% of that planet’s surface was made up of water. Then I tried to convince you that only 10% of the life forms inhabiting that unknown world, are known to those on the surface – you’d think I’d fallen asleep watching the latest sci-fi blockbuster! Then you discover that planet is Earth...
With space long ago reached by man, and commercial spaceflight tantalisingly close, the last great challenge for humans is to reach and explore the depths of our planet’s oceans. The submarine will travel to the deepest trenches in our oceans and will allow its pilot not only to reach these depths but to explore for 10 kilometres on each of the dives.
Virgin Oceanic is working with some of the most eminent scientific institutions in the world to collate data and catalogue life forms that will never have been seen before by human eyes and are unknown to science. The ability to go deep and then explore has been a dream of these great Oceanic Institutes - that dream is now close to becoming reality."
The Virgin Oceanic sub, a Hawkes Ocean Technologies-developed craft built to withstand 13 million pounds of pressure, will be able to 'fly' to the deepest parts of the ocean, about seven miles or 37,000 feet below the surface.
Check out Branson's CNN interview and this video simulation below and tell us — what do you think of Branson's latest foray into Virgin territory?