|Ready for anything: Sir Richard said |
reaching the bottom of the ocean is
the 'last great challenge' for explorers
The death-defying feat is part of a joint mission with an American sailor to go where no man has been before - and explore the deepest points in each of the world's five oceans in a single-seated Virgin Oceanic sub.
Announcing the project today in Newport Beach, California, the British entrepreneur and explorer said he was looking forward to learning more about 'the blue heart of the planet.'
If all goes well, the deep sea exploration will break as many as 30 Guinness world records, including the five deepest dives in history.
Sir Richard will take it in turns with U.S sailor and explorer Chris Welsh to pilot the snub-nosed submersible for five dives planned over a two-year period.
The first dive - the deepest - will take place in the western Pacific later this year.
On their journeys to the bottom of the sea, Sir Richard and Mr Welsh will spend up to 12 hours in complete darkness and freezing cold in the submarine's tiny cockpit.
t has been built to withstand the extreme pressure found 36,000 feet below the surface, which is 1,500 times the pressure exerted on an aeroplane.
The 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.'
Mr Welsh will be the chief pilot for the first dive later this year. He will plunge into the Pacific's Mariana Trench, which goes down to 36,201 feet (11,033 metres).
Sir Richard, back-up pilot on the first attempt, is then scheduled to pilot the red, white and blue submersible into the Atlantic's 28,232-feet deep (8,605 metres) Puerto Rico trench, which has never been explored before.
He said the greatest danger is if the sub gets snagged on nets or shipwrecked galleons on the bottom.
He said: 'It is like being lost on the dark side of the moon. There is nothing at is going to rescue us down there.'
The 60-year-old is well known for his past adventures, including trying to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon.
|Going solo: Sir Richard will pilot the mini-sub on a trip to the bottom of the Atlantic's Puerto Rico trench, which has never been explored before|
Much of life at such depths is still unknown: He said: 'We will be discovering life forms that have never been seen by human eyes.
'It is one of the last great challenges for humans to explore the depths of our oceans. We will be seriously pushing the boundaries of human exploration.'
The Oceanic project was originally conceived by Steve Fossett, Sir Richard's former adventurer partner, who died in a mysterious plane crash in California in 2007.
He said: 'It will be very much in his honour and memory that we'll make the dives.'