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Richard Branson, Virgin Quietly Give Up On Deep Sea Exploration (For Now)

Is this another example of Virgin trying too much too fast?

Richard Branson, Virgin Quietly Give Up On Deep Sea Exploration (For Now)
[Photo: Michael A. Schwarz/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Virgin founder Richard Branson is not afraid to dream big. Whether it’s trying to disrupt stale industries like air travel or cruise lines or attempting a grand human accomplishment, Branson doesn’t stop moving (or looking for his next gamble, even when the results don’t work out in ways minor, like the Virgin Mega Store, or dire, like November’s crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two). Well, another of Branson’s endeavors has come to an end, as the mogul has quietly said bon voyage to an ambitious plan and shuttered an oceanic exploration program.

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Branson first announced the Virgin Oceanic DeepFlight Challenger submarine in 2011, an 18-foot, one-person submersible designed for deep-sea dives. Branson was aiming rather high, or low, too. The first phase of the project called for Branson himself to take the sub to the Mariana Trench with four subsequent dives by other pilots to other deep spots following soon after. Finally, a rollout of Challenger subs for private enthusiasts to take similar dives. None of this ever happened. According to The Telegraph, the company that manufactured the (curiously named) Challenger never backed Virgin’s plan, since the sub was only designed for a single dive and would have been unsafe to pilot to the ocean floor multiple times.

Branson isn’t throwing in the towel completely, however. In a blog post on the Virgin site from this past August, he mentions that the company retains the name Virgin Oceanic and left the door open on the company’s return to the project in the future.

With great partners, entrepreneurs and ocean advocates, we started Virgin Oceanic in 2011 with the ambitious desire to build a submarine that would allow us to explore the bottom of the ocean. We are all still highly passionate about exploring the bottom of the ocean. However, we are now widening the focus of the project and looking for new technology to help us explore the ocean and democratise access at reduced cost and increased safety.

For more about the backstory of Virgin Oceanic, including the strange tale of how Branson became involved in the project after the death of a fellow billionaire adventurer, click here.

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