The Chinese have completed the deepest dive in the country's history today, sending a manned submersible 16,591 feet (5,057 meters) down into the Pacific Ocean.
During a six-hour dive aboard the Jiaolong, a vessel named for a mythical sea dragon, a three-person crew landed on the seabed several times and photographed some of the ocean life that dwells at such extreme depths, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The operation follows on the heels of China's previous deep-dive record, 13,211 feet (4,027 meters), set just last week aboard the same craft.
Today's deeper dive means the Jialong is capable of reaching 70 percent of the seafloor, said Wang Fei, an official with the State Oceanic Administration, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
"It will pave the way for a record-breaking 7,000-meter test dive in 2012," Wang said.
The Jiaolong is diving in a sector of the northeastern Pacific Ocean located between Hawaii and the North American mainland.
The record for the deepest manned dive ever, set in 1960, remains unchallenged. That year the U.S. Navy sent two men in a submersible to the bottom of the Mariana Trench; at 36,200 feet (11,030 meters) below the surface of the western Pacific Ocean, it is the deepest spot on Earth more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is tall.
Recently, private industry has waded into the deep-sea exploration game. British tycoon Richard Branson has announced plans to send humans to the five deepest spots on the planet within the next several years.
The world's oceans, which cover 70 percent of the planet's surface, remain largely unexplored and, in particular, much about the ocean depths remains mysterious researchers say.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese officials have said the Jiaolong is designed to search out valuable and rich mineral deposits that may lie on the ocean floor.