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The Inside Story of Virgin Oceanic's Mission To the Mariana Trench 93

Posted by samzenpus
from the inside-scoop dept.
the_newsbeagle writes "Millionaire adventurer Chris Welsh, the driving force behind Virgin Oceanic, wants to name his sub "Scarlett" after Scarlett Johansson—that's how sexy this vehicle is. Welsh plans to pilot the experimental, cutting-edge sub to the bottom of the Mariana Trench sometime this year, in what would be only the second human descent to the deepest spot in the world's oceans (the first trip down was in 1960). This inside account of the Virgin Oceanic mission describes a team fueled by ego, science, and derring-do, and explains how their high-tech sub could usher in a new kind of marine exploration. The article also tells the story of an adventure on the high seas last summer, when Welsh & co visited the trench to test some robotic deep-sea landers... and ran smack into a typhoon."
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The Inside Story of Virgin Oceanic's Mission To the Mariana Trench

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:17PM (#39202919)

    is something that was already done in 1960?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yup. Just let me dig out my Pessimist's Dictionary. I know I have it around here somewhere... ah, there it is.

      *a-hem*

      "cutting-edge," adj. Like something done decades ago, but not repeated since due to public apathy about science and/or exploration. Usage example: "A cutting-edge mission to the moon would boost patriotism."

    • Is it that hard to believe? Look at NASA. Its biggest accomplishment came in 1969, and we lack the capability to reproduce that accomplishment again today if we had to. Just because progress has been flat or backwards on these fronts over the last few decades doesn't mean that deep sea subs and moon landers are not cutting edge. It just means that it's time to hurry up and make some progress since the cutting edge isn't advancing fast enough.

      • by tibit (1762298) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:47PM (#39203231)

        I think that Hubble, the Mars rovers, and the upcoming JWST are much bigger accomplishments. Mission to the Moon was the biggest feat at the time, but the world doesn't sit still, yaknow. Hubble and JWST are more complex than the Apollo stack by almost any measure you would select.

        • by bananaquackmoo (1204116) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @07:10PM (#39203433)
          The thing about that is just because something is more complex does not make it more of an accomplishment.
        • I think that Hubble, the Mars rovers, and the upcoming JWST are much bigger accomplishments. Mission to the Moon was the biggest feat at the time, but the world doesn't sit still, yaknow. Hubble and JWST are more complex than the Apollo stack by almost any measure you would select.

          uhhhh, okay -- I'll bite. How about the capability to support the complex needs of a living organism against the harsh rigors of space? Hubble and JWST don't even have that capability, nor can they ever acquire it. What they are capable of is still fantastic, but if you are going to make comparisons, make sure you are not comparing apples to oranges. I think you just brought into sharp relief (cutting edge metaphor is good, let's stick with it) the difference between robotic missions and manned missio

          • by tibit (1762298)

            I don't think that the capability to support the complex needs of a living organism is in any way special. It's an engineering requirement, just like many others. You won't be putting it on a space telescope or on a robotic mission because it's not needed -- not because it's somehow supercomplex.

            • I don't think that the capability to support the complex needs of a living organism is in any way special. It's an engineering requirement, just like many others. You won't be putting it on a space telescope or on a robotic mission because it's not needed -- not because it's somehow supercomplex.

              The intent of my post was to highlight the difference between how excited I can get over a routine robotic mission compared to a manned mission, with the additional caveat that I actually can get excited over both, and that we should lobby the gov to fund both. Sorry you missed that. Thanks for playing, though.

          • ... We should be hammering on politicians' doors night and day demanding to know why we are being forced to choose one over the other when there is plenty of interest, collective wealth, and expertise to accomplish both with style and panache.

            Not through NASA's current bureaucracy, hardened silo's of project funding, and political ear-marked (aging)-infrastructure pork. What made NASA awesome was that the organization pulled a "moon-shot" (ahem) by unifying every aspect of their resources to a central mission (see the probably apocryphal story about the janitor and JFK - regardless of it's veracity, the mindset probably did exist in some fashion).

        • by khallow (566160)

          Hubble and JWST are more complex than the Apollo stack by almost any measure you would select.

          They aren't more complex than the human being, which is typically part of the Apollo stack.

          • by tibit (1762298)

            Yeah, but the human being is arguably not man-designed. Man-made, maybe, but we can't claim the design :)

            • by khallow (566160)

              Yeah, but the human being is arguably not man-designed. Man-made, maybe, but we can't claim the design :)

              This is a completely irrelevant point. The presence of a human brings a sophisticated system (sophisticated for the roles which it serves, such as command and control, sample collection, etc) that isn't present on the other vehicles which you mention. And I might add, that we have not yet come up with a more sophisticated system for the purposes which humans were used on Apollo. The state of the art hasn't advanced in half a century.

              • by tibit (1762298)

                That's all true, but the "part" of the Apollo stack that is the human is quite decoupled and limited. You don't need a human there, it's a frivolous excess, practically speaking. Having a robot in the Apollo stack would be just as fine; the humans were pretty useless -- for example in Apollo 13 you couldn't utilize human potential to go out there to the service module to fix stuff (not that it was fixable anyway); they barely could maintain their own life support to get back alive. Whatever they did on the

                • by khallow (566160)

                  Whatever they did on the Moon during Apollo was also something that would be no biggie for a robotic rover to do.

                  I disagree. I think here looking at actual astronauts in action during an Apollo mission would be enlightening. For example, Youtube has videos of the discovery of "orange soil" [youtube.com], the discovery of an unusual and potentially valuable (some century down the road) volcanic deposit. They move about easily, make quick decisions, and collect samples for return to Earth, all with an effectiveness unmatched by current robotic systems.

                  • by tibit (1762298)

                    It's all in the economy of scale. Spirit and Opportunity have been doing their job for many years, at a duty cycle that beats or exceeds that of a human, even if their functionality is obviously much lower. Yet you can cover a lot of ground if you've got a couple years to look at things :) Something like an upsized MSL rover could do what would be fairly uneconomical for humans to achieve. That rover could realistically roam around on the Moon for a couple years, and we're talking about a minivan-sized mach

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      It's all in the economy of scale.

                      This is exactly where humans shine. We're at an extreme tail of space science, trying to do credible science in space on a minimal budget (much which gets consumed in pork barrel politics and excessive R&D cycles). We're optimizing R&D costs or national prestige for the dollar, not scientific output. Maximizing scientific output rate especially per dollar spent, means using humans as close as you can get to the target as long as you can. For places where people can actually live, such as the surface

    • by arielCo (995647) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:54PM (#39203295)
      The Trieste was a bathyscaphe [wikipedia.org] - a hard sphere hanging from a flotation device.
      This is a true submarine - it dives and ascends as a single unit: http://www.virginoceanic.com/vehicles/submersible/ [virginoceanic.com]
      The unmanned Nereus [wikipedia.org] also reached the Challenger Deep, piloted remotely through a fiber optic cable.
      • by Lando (9348) <lando2+slash AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday March 01, 2012 @01:05AM (#39205513) Homepage Journal

        Bathyscaphe, submarine, does it matter. The bathyscaphe was autonomous, it had not connection to the surface and had propellers to move it around. This is likely tied to the article they had a few weeks/months back about being the first to get to the bottom. Sounds like it's just trying to drum up publicity, but knowing that people know about the previous visit they are not saying it's the first any longer. Actually the previous was about some Chinese submersibles I think. It's interesting, but just wanted to point out that differences are minor versus major as the above comment tries to assert.

    • Read up on Welsh's Deep Flight Challenger [deepflight.com]. As TFA says, it makes the 1960 vehicle, the Bathyscaphe Trieste [wikipedia.org], look like a zeppelin compared to a fighter jet.
      • Pfft. The Trieste has nothing in common with the german brand of dirigibles. I mean, yeah, both vessels have a low occupy-able area compared to the total volume of the craft, and are lighter than the ambient medium with buoyancy provided by a rigid cylinder filled with highly flammable fluid, but other than that, I can't see any similarities.

    • by giorgist (1208992)
      Open heart surgery first happened in 1960, do you doubt that today's performances are not cutting edge ?
    • by kermidge (2221646)

      The trip, yes. National Geographic, to which I had a subscription, had a good article on Walsh and Piccard's endeavor.

      The means, decidedly no. I would never suggest reading the article to learn something, of course.

    • by yodleboy (982200)
      i believe the 1960 vehicle had the ability to go down, then up. period. this one can go down, explore around, then go up. kind of the difference between an elevator and an airplane.
  • We're off to see the sponge bob, the spunge bob of the deep...
  • by amoeba1911 (978485) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:20PM (#39202953) Homepage
    Is that carbon neutral? Why haven't I seen cars that run on ego? It's some kind of government conspiracy to keep us dependent on oil. Roswell!
    • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:28PM (#39203057)

      Is that carbon neutral? Why haven't I seen cars that run on ego? It's some kind of government conspiracy to keep us dependent on oil. Roswell!

      Ego produces harmful clouds of smug, a far worse pollutant than CO2.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Not to mention unstable, if two egos get too close and reach critical rivalry an uncontrolled chain reaction occurs and the fallout can poison the surroundings for years.

    • Tesla?

    • by dkf (304284)

      Is that carbon neutral? Why haven't I seen cars that run on ego?

      The conversion rate of ego to useful energy is poor. Luckily, the team have Branson about so they've got near-infinite amounts of ego on site, but redistributing to the rest of the world is impractical. (If we could substitute ego for hyperbole and hot air, we'd be able to make some use of politicians...)

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:21PM (#39202969)

    Scarlett to probe deep in Virgin trenches

  • While they're down there, they should totally bring back up some better presidential candidates than we have now. Shouldn't be too hard to find one.
  • Virgin (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:23PM (#39203015)

    Something I've always wondered about that UK company, does the adjective virgin have the same connotation in the UK as it does here?
    Or is it kind of like "I need a fag" means something completely different in the UK vs US?
    Do all Virgin(TM) advertisements revolve around the inside breathless account of men penetrating deeply into the never before seen trench or cave or whatever female analogy they can scare up?

    • Re:Virgin (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anubis IV (1279820) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:43PM (#39203193)

      From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

      The brand name "Virgin" arose when Branson and a partner were starting their first business, a record shop. They considered themselves virgins in business. The current Virgin logo was originally sketched on a paper napkin and remains largely unchanged since 1979.

      Of course, that sentence has [citation needed] on it on Wikipedia, so I won't dare claim that it's accurate.

      As for its meaning in the UK, I couldn't say. I live on the other side of the pond.

      • by Inda (580031)
        It's in Branson's autobiography, if I remember correctly. It's been a long time since I read it (15 years plus, probably).
    • > does the adjective virgin have the same connotation in the UK as it does here? [USA]

      Yes, it does have the same meaning. It was really racy until FCUK [wikipedia.org] started in '97.

    • Damn, I'd hate to be around you when you see some virgin snow. Unless I have a video camera handy, that stuff's gold on youtube.

    • by NoseyNick (19946)
      Yes, Virgin means, y'know, untouched, unsoiled, etc in the UK too.
      Richard Branson's brands have included Virgin Records, Virgin Games, Virgin Cola, Virgin Airways, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Trains, most amusingly Virgin Brides, but Mates Condoms.
  • by sethstorm (512897) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:29PM (#39203067) Homepage

    On Virgin's mission to the Mariana trench - will it be a gentle descent, or will they keep hammering the bottom?

  • by Michael O-P (31524) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:38PM (#39203143) Journal
    I hope they don't disturb Leap Day William. I want to be able to exchange my tears for candy.
  • by Kvasio (127200) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:44PM (#39203199)

    somehow disappointing that in the story there are hyperlinks to various stuff, but "Scarlett Johansson" is just a plain text

  • An architect I know wants to take a year sabbatical to do a bottom-to-top trek, "starting" at the bottom of the trench and "ending" at the top of Everest. He hasn't figured out exactly how to get funding for the dive portion...maybe he can hitch a ride?

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @06:51PM (#39203265)

    wants to name his sub "Scarlett" after Scarlett Johansson—that's how sexy this vehicle is

    So... not that sexy? Perhaps that's a bit rough - she's okay - but seriously?
    Offhand, I can easily think of several other women, and a couple of Italian motorcycles, that are way sexier. :-)

    • Yea the sub might be pretty cool, but I'd hardly call it "sexy".
    • wants to name his sub "Scarlett" after Scarlett Johansson—that's how sexy this vehicle is

      So... not that sexy? Perhaps that's a bit rough - she's okay - but seriously? Offhand, I can easily think of several other women, and a couple of Italian motorcycles, that are way sexier. :-)

      couldn't agree more (pats ducati 1098 lovingly.)

      • wants to name his sub "Scarlett" after Scarlett Johansson—that's how sexy this vehicle is

        So... not that sexy? Perhaps that's a bit rough - she's okay - but seriously? Offhand, I can easily think of several other women, and a couple of Italian motorcycles, that are way sexier. :-)

        couldn't agree more (pats ducati 1098 lovingly.)

        Googled your bike - WOW.
        [ Note: I *was* going to say that I could "think of ... that are way sexier and smarter" but thought that was too mean :-) ]

    • by Inda (580031)
      Blond with big tits is the definition of sexy.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    totally read this as "marijuana trench". was very excited.

  • Quartz dome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SixDimensionalArray (604334) on Wednesday February 29, 2012 @08:28PM (#39204009)

    I was interested in the sub's specs - the glass cockpit "dome" is apparently made of quartz. The only other subs with these kinds of domes that I've seen that can get to these depths without being crushed by the enormous pressures use some type of borosilicate glass. My understanding is the only difference between the two types of glass is the amount of silica (SiO2) in them.

    Looks like a race to the bottom - I think the other company was Triton submarines that used the borosilicate glass domes. Whatever it is - it is fascinating to see the use of these materials which actually get stronger under pressure!

    • Quartz has some neat stress properties. You can take a white hot quartz tube and quench it in water and it stays a tube. If you do that with borosilicate, (not that you can really get it as hot) you end up with crunchy bits.
  • but guys, you pissed away a good oppourtunity to post some SJ pics
    Like this!
    https://www.google.com/search?q=scarlett%20johansen&hl=en&biw=1272&bih=843&sei=L-NOT5vSFoWuiQeU7onDCw&tbm=isch [google.com]

    Also the potential of mentioning floatation devices too, oh for shame :(

  • He just wants to be able to say he's deep inside Scarlett
  • It really didn't cause any problems, but then it was never underwater or used to explore caves.
  • he would name it Cthulu, in a chance to appease the Master he no doubt will rouse from slumber.

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