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from the L.A. Times

Richard Branson's Virgin Oceanic sub to feed deep-sea data to Google Earth

VirginSub

Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, is set to dive into the deepest parts of the ocean in a new custom-built submarine that he will co-pilot this year and next.

And the dives -- five are planned -- will be feeding trip data back to Google Earth, Google's free 3-D mapping software, as well as scientists from USC, the University of Hawaii, University of Alaska, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.

"Our mission for Google Earth is to create a virtual mirror of the world and help users learn and understand about the world they live in, including the oceans," said Anne Espiritu, a Google spokeswoman, in an email. "With this expedition, we hope to better understand the unique conditions and ecosystems that exist in the oceans and share them with the world through Google Earth."

The Virgin Oceanic submarine will be driven by Branson and Chris Welsh, a pilot and Orange County entrepreneur, and take five dives over the next two years.

The first expedition is scheduled for later this year with a 36,201-foot plunge into the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, which Virgin says is the deepest unexplored point on the planet.

The submarine is 18 feet long and expected to be able to dive well below 36,000 feet deep, the Virgin Group said on a website detailing the mission.

After the initial dive, trips by the Virgin Oceanic sub are planned into the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean (28,232 feet deep), the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean (18,399 feet), the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean (23,737 feet) and Diamantina in the Indian Ocean (26,401 feet).

Altogether, the submarine should end up diving deeper than any operating military sub, deeper than a sperm whale and much deeper than the Titanic's final resting place.

As our sister blog L.A. Now reported, Branson, who is a British billionaire and has set various travel and speed records, said the goal of of the dives was to make scientific discoveries, such as cataloging new species of sealife, and to "educate the world about secrets hidden in its depths."

Of course, Branson, being a businessman, is also keeping in mind possible deep-sea travel possibilities, L.A. Now reported.

"Great businesses can come from great challenges," Branson said. "We believe there are thousands of people who would like to experience oceans and become aquanauts."

A move into uncharted travel-industry waters wouldn't be an odd one for Virgin. The company already has its Virgin Galactic space-travel business up and running with an initial manned flight taking place last October and commercial flights planned.

ALSO:

Virgin Galactic's president announces his resignation

SpaceX announces Falcon Heavy: a low-cost, heavy-lifting, 22-story rocket

Project, Richard Branson's iPad-only magazine, now available in Apple's App Store

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screenshot of the Virgin Oceanic Submarine from the sub's animated teaser video. Credit: Virign Group/YouTube

 
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