He once promised to send man to outer space and now entrepreneur and daredevil Richard Branson is turning his attention to another of the world’s greatest undiscovered surfaces, in the shape of the sea floor.
The Virgin owner, together with director James Cameron and Internet mastermind Eric E.Schmidt are investing in the latest sea craft with the intention of plunging to depths previously unseen for man.
Developers Triton have already created their own craft and the company’s president Patrick Lahey revealed the host of discoveries that could soon be made including a close view of where the Titanic collapsed at the bottom of the ocean.
Lahey said: ‘There is a host of wonders down there. You could visit the mid-Atlantic thermal vents, where volcanic heated gases bubble up from Earth’s core, or cruise down to the wrecks of the Titanic or the Bismarck.
‘You will be able to access any place in the ocean and watch all those wonderful sea creatures.’
Back in April, Branson launched the Virgin Oceanic single-seater submarine with the intention of going 36,000 feat below the surface.
His eight-foot long craft, made of carbon fibre and titanium, has stubby wings and a cockpit. It can cruise for about 6.2miles and can stay submerged without help for 24 hours.
Sir Richard said: With space long ago reached by man, and commercial space flight tantalizingly close, the last great challenge for humans is to reach and explore the depths of our planet’s oceans.
‘There are enormous amounts of the oceans that have not been explored. More men have been to the moon than have been down further than 20,000 feet.’
Several firms are designing their own vessels aimed at exploring the a number of previously unreachable spots including the notorious Challenger Deep.
With temperatures near freezing and so far removed from any sunlight, it has previously proved a futile exhibition for divers.
Other locations including the Mariana Trench, near the Mariana Islands, in the Pacific, which at 11,000 metres below the surface has no natural light and water pressure a thousand times grater than that at sea level.
Despite the concern of reaching such depths, several companies say they are designing crafts that will withstand these colossal pressures.
Triton president Lahey added: ‘We will use a sphere of special glass that is more than four inches thick for the main part of our submersible
‘It will give its three passengers an all-round view of everything that is going on down there – though, obviously, when we get very deep, we will have to use pretty powerful lamps to illuminate proceedings.’
Other vehicles include the Deep Flight Challenger that would accommodate one individual and designed by UK engineer Graham Hawkes reaches depths of 11,000 metres.
Hawkes revealed: ‘The pressure hull is made of a custom-designed carbon fibre, with very thick walls. Inside, we provide an artificial atmosphere. The pilot is not subjected to any pressure differences whatsoever.
‘There’s a big window in the front that’s covered by a Plexiglas streamline canopy. The deep water typically is clear, so there will be lots to see. And it doesn’t look like it, but the inside is actually a comfortable space.’
Director Cameron has already raised $8m in investment to explore the sea and he revealed his intention to reach the bottom of the Kermadec-Tonga trench, north of New Zealand as early as next summer.
Cameron revealed his future quest dates back to his childhood fantasies in the New York times.
He said: ‘When I was a kid, I loved not only amazing ocean exploration but space, too.
‘I can think of no greater fantasy than to be an explorer and see what no human eye has seen before.’
Meanwhile, Google’s Schmidt is leading his own team that aim to send three people to an 11km drop on purpose built submarines that will eventually be on sale for $40m.