Exploring Space: Space Elevator

I’ve been learning so much spacey stuff! I have no idea if I’ll use any of it, but I’ve always loved space, so who cares?

I’m still reading the National Geographic: Exploring Space issue. I’m also almost through 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, in which a space elevator is featured as a way of getting from Earth to space. When I first read about it I pictured a tall, skinny black skyscraper that stretched into the sky like a never-ending obelisk, which means it would sway like crazy. The only thing in it was an elevator like you’d find in any hotel.

Let me clarify that this is now how Ms. Robinson described it, because I know that tons of people and things ride in her elevators and there is some kind of show with singing going on as they go up, but that’s still what I picture when I hear “space elevator.”

In this National Geographic, they talk about the idea for a real, live space elevator. There’s actually a space elevator competition where contestants compete to develop parts that will lead to a real space elevator. It won’t look quite like the one I pictured, though. It sounds like it will operate on a super, super strong cable that stretches up into space (there is a competition to make such a cable). It will have to rotate with the Earth, and there needs to be a counterweight at the top to keep it nice and taut.

The elevator car is another competition. The idea is to have a big container move up this wire, powered by laser energy. They’d the container to be about the size of an 18 wheeler trailer, and the idea is for it to carry up cargo and supplies that would waste rocket fuel, but people are a consideration as well. I guess a spaceship would have to dock at the top and pick everything up–but I picture a whole Naval-style launching pad where space craft can take off and land without expending the kind of fuel required to exit Earth’s atmosphere. They can save their power for getting them on an off other planets, like Mars.

It’s a cool idea, and yet another thing I had no idea even existed. Research can be a great thing.


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