Friday, June 25, 2004

Bottle o' wine, box o' chocolates, and a long elevator ride.

There's nothing quite so romantic as an elevator. Particularly one that goes up to the “space” floor. Even at the speedy clip of 124 mph, that leaves a lot of time for nookie. What's more, when you finally get off this lift, you'll have all the privacy and space of...well, space. It seems far-fetched I know, but folks are talking about it for real. Even NASA is looking for room in its 2004 budget to squeeze out $2.4 million for additional research regarding the possibility of building an elevator to space. It's the real deal, and according to Brad Edwards, head of the space elevator project at the Institute for Scientific Research in Fairmont, West Virginia, it could happen by 2019, with a price tag of a mere $10 bills.

Here's how it works, and actually, it makes a lot of sense. Scientists have figured out how to make super-light, super strong, super-small, strands of carbon called "carbon nanotubes". The plan is to make a ribbon out of these nanotubes that is 3 feet wide, as thin as a sheet of paper, and 64,000 miles long. One end will be anchored to a platform in the equatorial pacific, where the weather is fairly constant and calm; the other end will be attached to a counterweight that is flung way out into space. The counterweight orbits the earth in the same direction and at the same speed as the earth is rotating, so it jus hovers over the same spot - in middle of the pacific. The centrifugal force of the earths spinning is enough to keep the cable taught and support plenty of weight - no fear of the whole thing crashing down into the ocean, though that'd be an interesting sight. Then, "climbers" would work there way up the cable carrying, spacecraft, space station parts, satellites, tourists, or anything else we might want to send to space. The climbers would be powered by photovoltaic cells that would run off of the energy provided by high-powered lasers pointing at it from earth.

In the end, the idea is that it's a cheaper, safer, and way more efficient way to send things to space - far superior to sketchy shuttle missions. As far as global implications are concerned, it may be that the first country to build a space elevator will truly be the first country to really claim space for its own. In addition, will there be any environmental problems with this? I mean, I can't really think of any, other than that it is damn weird to have a big ribbon running all the way through the atmosphere. What if planes hit it? Won't it be awfully easy to destroy or sabotage? Will terrorists attack our space-lift? All are viable concerns, but for now, it looks like it's goodbye to the stairway to heaven and hello to the elevator of love. After all, we are Americans, and we don't use stairs.

For more info check out the Space Elevator Conference and this super-cool animation.

1 comment:

F'er said...

I remember this really cool video game on my Sega Genesis, "Contra Hard Corps", and it was sweet. There was this final level where you took an elevator to a space station in outer space. Trouble was, you had to fight some pretty mean bosses on the ride up. Sounds cool, I just wouldn't wanna be the test subject if this thing ever did get built. I'd be too afraid that some evil scientist and his robot would suddenly appear and I'd have to fight them without any machine or laser guns...