Billionaire Boys and Their Toys

What would you do if you had a few hundred million dollars to burn? Whatever you did, you'd certainly never stash it all in a savings account, right?

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What would you do if you had a few hundred million dollars to burn? Would you pump it into the back of a rocket and fire it towards space? Or would you go the other direction and build a submarine and dive to the center of the Earth taking snapshots of alien-like species of eels? Would you buy an island? Sail a ship? Invent a supercomputer? Whatever you did, you'd certainly never stash it all in a savings account, right?

That's what a small group of very rich men who already own enough houses and islands must be thinking to judge from the innovative ways they're burning through their fortunes. It marks a new trend of the super wealthy choosing not to merely fund science and technology projects but work directly to produce them. And in many cases, these producers become participants in the experiment. We'll call them the Billionaire Boys Club for Exploratory Spending. And, boy, are their adventures cool.

James Cameron

Thanks to his latest adventures in deep sea diving, James Cameron is now a member of Billionaire Boys Club for Exploratory Spending. While he's not technically a billionaire -- his net worth is about halfway there, though he's worth well over nine digits if you count the earnings of his various movie empires -- the director/visionary is preparing to dive miles deep into the Pacific Ocean. The New York Times says that Cameron characterizes his goals as being "purely scientific rather than competitive." The Titanic and Avatar director has recruited the help of the National Geographic Society and NASA for the project. "Cameron plans to plunge nearly seven miles to the planet’s most inaccessible spot: the Challenger Deep in the western Pacific, an alien world thought to swarm with bizarre eels and worms, fish and crustaceans," explains The Times' William J. Broad. "He wants to spend six hours among them, filming the creatures and sucking up samples with a slurp gun." Cameron's 43-inch-wide capsule is outfitted with four HD cameras and a seven-foot-long panel of LEDs to illuminate the deep sea critters.

Richard Branson

The enterprising mind behind the Virgin empire is not shy about his apparent addiction to adventure. Beginning with his (failed) 1985 attempt to steer a boat across the Atlantic faster than any human in history, Branson has kept himself busy by breaking world records. He broke that Atlantic record in 1985 then successfully crossed the Pacific in an ultra high-tech hot air balloon in 1991. By 2004, he'd moved on to amphibious vehicles and crossed the English channel in record time. He also likes Jet Skis. Branson's latest conquest, of course, is space. And of course, the billionaire has found a way to make money on his rocket ship projects. You've probably heard of Virgin Galactic, the world's first space tourism company, and in the next couple of years, Branson's latest venture will start blasting rich people into space. (Tickets start at $200,000.) But you can go and check out his space port -- again, the world's first -- in New Mexico for free. It looks like a space ship.

Jeff Bezos

Amazon's founder is a little bit eccentric. In a way, this is how Jeff Bezos has become so successful: He approaches problems from a different angle and arrives at a different, often lucrative solution. And like the Apple visionary and co-founder Steve Jobs -- to whom he's often compared -- Bezos is a pretty private guy. As such, we don't know too much about the progress of his space project Blue Origin. Set up in 2000, the rocket ship company maintains the goal of building an "enduring human presence in space." (Some people like to call this "space colonization.") Along those lines, Bezos told Wired's Steven Levy last year that he wants Blue Origin "to lower the cost of access to space" so that "anybody to go to space." Unfortunately, the rocket ship building hasn't been going so well. Not long before that Wired interview, Blue Origin's test ship failed to launch after the ground crew lost control of the rocket. Luckily, Bezos can afford to build another.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.