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Elevator to the Moon (and the Fountains of Paradise Along the Way) May 3, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in Arthur C. Clarke, Black Line Ascension, Carbon Nanotubes, private sector, Space Elevator.

“Elevator to the moon, whistling a favorite tune…”
“Satellite” , by Guster

A concept supported/pioneered by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke (initially in his book The Fountains of Paradise, and that he considered to be the greatest part of his science legacy; he also described the idea of communications satellites….in 1945) and NASA itself as of late, the Space Elevator is a seemingly radical, and yet very real, alternative for transport into space.

It’s pretty much as it sounds, functioning as an elevator that climbs upwards along a ribbon, a 22,000-mile-long cable or tether going straight up into a fixed position in orbit from an oceanic, equatorial location on the Earth’s surface, allowing cheap and easy transport of all kinds of materials (or people) in a similar manner to a more typical elevator.

“What we’re talking about is building the biggest thing…ever.”
-Steven Steiner, MIT, in a
NOVA feature on the Space Elevator

Initially described as a concept in 1960 by a Russian engineer, Yuri Artsutanov, the recent (approx. 1991) discovery of carbon nanotubes (a material 10,000 times as thin as a human hair, but stronger than steel) provides a base for the actual design and construction of a space elevator. The concept is real enough for NASA to support an annual X prize-like contest to race prototypes, and for various companies to pop up that are taking the idea very seriously.

A space elevator would be far less expensive than space shuttles, despite the spectacular nature of it, even down to ‘100th or 1,000th’ of the cost, particularly for the actual transport of goods per weight. The cost to build it would be around $10 billion, compared to $1.7 billion for one space shuttle, with a cost of $450 million to launch it each time. Not too bad, considering.

A space elevator would make population and transport of goods to Lunar and Martian colonies far easier, and could be constructed on the Moon itself for surface-orbit transport there.

Space elevators are an (as the amount of links here attests to) enormous concept/movement, with a lot of momentum behind it; almost as much as I’ve seen for lunar colonization itself. Any time private companies are investing themselves in an idea as large as this, that can be an indicator of the seriousness and imminent nature of a technology or concept. In other words, this could be something in the headlines before the end of the next President’s administration.

Expect a lot of discussion here about the various aspects of the space elevator, and how they pertain to moon colonization and integration; perhaps, even, I’ll manage to explore to topic personally at some point soon for you all.



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