Over the course of 2012 and beyond, Virgin Oceanic’s one-person sub will journey to the deepest part of each of Earth’s five oceans. The first dive will be to the deepest place on the planet: the bottom of the Mariana Trench – 11 kilometers (7 mi) straight down. This will be the first time since 1960 that human eyes have set sight here – when the bathyscaphe, Trieste (which moved straight up & down like a hot air balloon) briefly touched down carrying co-pilots Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard. This time, a sub that flies more like an airplane will allow the solo pilot, Chris Welsh, not only to reach the deepest point on Earth, but then to “fly” along the bottom of the Trench an additional 10 kilometers (nearly 6 mi).
The second dive – to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench – will be piloted by Sir Richard Branson. This trench is the deepest spot in the Atlantic Ocean at over 8 kilometers (more than 5 mi). This location is also near to Branson’s home on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.
Subsequent dives will carry a human pilot to the bottom of the Arctic, Southern and Indian oceans. Less than 3% of the seafloor has been explored, and none of the deepest points of the planet have ever been explored beyond a brief visit to one. The opportunities to see and learn from these dives are monumental.
Virgin Oceanic’s first dive will be to the Mariana Trench early in 2013, and further dives are scheduled over the next 24 months, subject to receipt of all required regulatory approvals.
The research and development phase of the programme was extended due to work on design modification. This has extended the testing period and moved the earliest opportunity of our first major dive into 2013.