If you were hoping to see Virgin Oceanic visit the deepest parts of Earth's oceans, you'll have to put those dreams on hold. The company has confirmed that it's at least temporarily dropping plans to make five dives using its DeepFlight Challenger craft. Virgin isn't saying just what prompted the decision, but founder Sir Richard Branson alluded to a cancellation in August. He stressed the importance of "knowing when to change tack" and that Virgin Oceanic was "widening its focus" to work on more accessible ocean exploration. In short, DeepFlight wasn't panning out.
Safety is likely the main concern. DeepFlight stopped backing the project after Virgin announced that it would attempt five dives, since Challenger was only meant to survive one. It didn't want to be attached to expeditions that could easily go wrong, and tests showed that the glass cockpit would crack at depths of around 38,000 feet -- not good if you're diving into to the Marianas Trench. A spokesperson says there's "no doubt" that Virgin Oceanic will eventually return to the deep seas, although that's more of an expectation than a guarantee. Virgin likely isn't eager to take unnecessary risks in light of its tragic SpaceShipTwo accident, so it may not consider deep ocean excursions until (and unless) it can promise that the crew will come back.
[Image credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images]