Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Space Elevator Gets a...Lift

When has the idea of an elevator up into space NOT held our imagination? Yes, many years, even decades, and the notion has not left our imagination. Consider this article by Claire Evans:
"...although it's been a pipe dream of armchair theorists since the 1800s, it just made one giant leap into a whole new world of plausibility. Why? Because the Japanese, perhaps afraid of being eclipsed by the mighty progress of commercial space travel companies, or the showboating of the nascent Chinese space program, have decided to build one, for real. It's a smart pairing. Japan is a pioneer in the kind of precision engineering that a space elevator requires, and their space program, JAXA, is a small but powerful operation, excelling in X-Ray astronomy, satellite-based Earth observation, and building smart modules and components for the International Space Station."
"...Plunging headlong into this unlikely project, Japanese scientists have founded an organization called the Japan Space Elevator Association, and they plan to host an international conference in November to draw up a timetable for the machine, discuss its impact on the world, and, according to their site, "Organize races with climbers made of Lego Blocks." Yes, it sounds like fun, but surely this is a folly in a moment of global economic upheaval? Unbelievably, the space elevator is in fact a totally pragmatic idea, and ultimately a cheap one, too-or rather, it's cheaper than the fuel-guzzling rigmarole we're currently faced with every time we need to wrest something from the steely grip of our planet's escape gravity. The idea is simple, as most good ideas are: a super-strong tether made of carbon nanotubes, held taut by the inertia of the planet's rotation, spanning from the surface of the Earth to a point beyond geosynchronous orbit, serving as a kind of  22,000 mile-long cosmic freeway (or, as the Japanese have already dubbed it, a bullet train to space) shuttling "lifters" out of the planet's gravity and into orbit..."

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