Article by Luis Figueroa | Digital Art by Joshua Eller | Owl Staff
As you stand on an elevator after putting your luggage on the floor, you hear the bell ding and the elevator begins to move.
This elevator, however, does not go to a town or a city. It doesn’t go anywhere on land, but up into the vastness of space. This sounds like something from science fiction, but could very well be a possibility with the creation of a space elevator.
According to David Smitherman of NASA’s Advanced Projects Office, the idea originates from Fountains of Paradise, a 1978 science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the famous 2001: A Space Odyssey. When could the space elevator become a reality? “Probably about fifty years after everybody quits laughing,” says Clark.
The space elevator would be connected to a space station that sits at geostationary orbit, essentially so high that it would circle the Earth. The base tower would stand around fifty kilometers tall; it would be tethered to Earth and four to six tracks would run up to the station.
The shuttles would run on electromagnetic currents, which would allow them to reach thousands of kilometers-per-hour in a few seconds. The tower would be made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). This is a new form of carbon that is lightweight, one hundred times stronger than steel, and holds the tensile strength and hardness of a diamond but will not become brittle and crack like diamonds sometimes can.
Because the CNT is currently being researched, the tower is not feasible today. Smitherman states it may not happen until towards the end of the 21st century.
We are currently pushing the limits of our resources, but we could use this space elevator as a jumping point to venture further beyond the stars. We could use the station as a launch bay to send out further shuttles to collect asteroids and space debris for raw materials.
It could also be used for space tourism so people can see the galaxy with their own eyes, or to even live in space one day. According to Smitherman, the cost of a ticket to space, taking into account current energy prices, could be around $222 including baggage of 150 kg (around 330 lbs.).
The biggest issue, however, is that this can only be possible if we garner a high enough percentage of people using the elevator. It is therefore imperative that, as we research into CNT or magnetic trains, that we actually have civilians who are willing to go into space, not just as a job but as a place to live.