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Thoughts on the Space Elevator

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the no-such-thing-as-an-inefficient-government dept.

Space 622

Keith Curtis writes to tell us that Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, has posted his thoughts on why NASA should be building a space elevator instead or their current plans. Keith has also posted his throughts from an engineer's perspective (although admittadly still not a rocket scientist). "The challenges are many, but it has been a viable option since carbon nanotubes, structures so strong that one the width of a human hair could lift a car, were invented. A space elevator could be between 10 and 2000 times cheaper than conventional technology and will force NASA to change just about everything they do. Hopefully one day that bureaucracy will wake up and realize it."

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Frist post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617782)

From Spanaiaiana!

shut up and die (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617785)

faggot

Musak (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617788)

Yeah but who wants to listen to that god awful music?

Re:Musak (5, Funny)

Crash McBang (551190) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617886)

You get used to it after the first 5,000 floors...

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617789)

GNAA BITCH

"wake up and realize it" (1)

anocelot (657966) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617791)

...sure, if he hadn't been reading Robinson novels the night before...

w00t (1)

Dest581 (915603) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617792)

I think NASA needs to try a different approach to stuff, and this could be it.

MUSAK (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617796)

I said it, now don't mention it again. It is annoying and not funny.

Dupe! (-1, Troll)

montreal!hahahahah (880120) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617798)

Come on Editors!
Again?! [goat.cx]

Pixiedust (4, Insightful)

prurientknave (820507) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617800)

If magic pixie dust were invented it would be such a waste to spend all this money on conventional boosters. Come on NASA! Drop what's known to work and concentrate on the pixie dust formula.

Re:Pixiedust (4, Informative)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617900)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixie_dust [wikipedia.org]
It already exists. Just not for what you are thinking about using it for. IBM owns the patent on Pixie Dust. Although I can't see that they care about it anymore now that they sold thier hard drive division.

Re:Pixiedust (4, Insightful)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617964)

I once read an interesting article on cluster computing, which basically said that the fastest and cheapest way to solve any truly big computational problem was, "Wait a few years before buying the cluster." Given the rates at which prices for storage, processing, and networking were plummeting, a problem that would take eight years to solve today could be solvable in four years two years out, and in two years two years from now. So by putting it off for two years, you'd shave two years off the project.

The current plan doesn't get us to the moon until 2018 anyways, and without a cheap way to keep things flowing between here and the moon, the chance of a sustained human presence is nil. So we could spend $100B building basically the same propulsion-based solutions we've always been building, or we could spend a much smaller sum on fundamental materials research.

I don't see it as a gamble, because without a drastically cheaper way to get into space, we'll just retrace the journeys of the Apollo missions. Then the whole nation will kick back, pop open a beer, mutter "Yep, still got it," and wait to do it all over again in 2050.

Count me in with the pixie dusters.

Yes but Glenn Reynolds is an idiot. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617809)

Couldnt find something from hindrocket or rush limbaugh?

It may be more cost effective technically.. (4, Insightful)

thedak (833551) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617810)

But, I don't remember ever hearing that we actually have the technology to produce enough carbon nanotube material to actually build a prototype device of some sort let alone a cable spanning to LEO. I realize it's 14 years away.. but there's no guarentee we will actually have the capacity by that time. As far as I'm concerned we're better off building what can actually be finished come 2020 let alone tested and on our way to the moon.. again..

Re:It may be more cost effective technically.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617836)

The technology already exists. The nanotubes don't have to be of a significant length to be woven into a ribbon that can stretch down from geosynchronous orbit. Look at the FAQ on the LiftPort site. They're beginning high altitude tests right now... www.liftport.com

Re:It may be more cost effective technically.. (4, Informative)

ArbitraryConstant (763964) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617881)

"But, I don't remember ever hearing that we actually have the technology to produce enough carbon nanotube material to actually build a prototype device of some sort let alone a cable spanning to LEO."

A space elevator must extend to geosynchronous orbit, 36000 km up.

Re:It may be more cost effective technically.. (4, Interesting)

Tango42 (662363) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617965)

Actually, it's more than Geosynchronous - the centre of gravity needs to be at GS (or near it, the fact that it's joined to the ground might have an effect), so it has to go past it by an amount depending on the mass of the counterweight.

Re:It may be more cost effective technically.. (2, Informative)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618011)

I've always thought they should consider a variation on the space elevator, where the top was in LEO, and the bottom hung down into the atmosphere. To get things to the top, you simply fly something up high enough that it can latch onto the bottom. Then when you get to the top, you wait for a second one to swing by and take you higher.

It would be like Jungle Hunt, but without the alligators.

Elevate me up Scotty! (2, Interesting)

RUFFyamahaRYDER (887557) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617815)

I wonder how long it will take for one of these elevators to reach their destination. If the elevators are going to take a long time they need to be big enough to hold some food and other supplies. I'm sure they will be big enough to send up large equipment though...

Re:Elevate me up Scotty! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617851)

One thing that gets me is the "drop points" that are talked about up the elevator. If you go up 1000ft and let go you drop to the ground. If you let go at 100,000ft, you drop to the ground. only when you have reached the geostationary orbit, (and velocity) will you be able to get off, and "float" in zero gravity,

Just bugs me all the time,,,,

Re:Elevate me up Scotty! (2, Informative)

uberdave (526529) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617978)

There are two factors in an orbit: altitude and velocity. The elevator will take care of the altitude, so essentially all you need to do is get off of the elevator at the right level, and fire a rocket to get you to orbital velocity. This will take less fuel then launching from the surface. The higher you let go of the cable, the less fuel you need to get to orbital velocity.

Re:Elevate me up Scotty! (1)

Tango42 (662363) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617996)

You wouldn't drop all the way to the ground, would you? Wouldn't you just end up in an eliptical orbit with the point you let go as the apogee? As long as you get high enough for the perigee to be out of the atmosphere, you'd be fine.

Launch Loop (5, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617817)

Sigh. Ya know, we could build a structure to space with todays (hell, 20+ year old) technology if we wanted. The Launch Loop [launchloop.com] concept was published 20 years ago and is viable today. It costs less than a space elevator is predicted to cost and, unlike the space elevator, can be built from the ground up instead of from orbit down. So yeah, please stop saying stuff like: once we have strong carbon nanotube fibres we'll have a space elevator two weeks later. It doesn't work like that. The majority of studies that remain to be done to make the Launch Loop a reality are much the same as the many studies that still need to be done to make the space elevator a reality. Someone has got to finance those studies and unless you can get PhD students to do it on government funding that means you've got to pour money into a hole that might never fill up.

Re:Launch Loop (1)

kevlar (13509) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617891)

I think everyone is too laxy to open those PDFs, so why do you explain what it is for us...

Re:Launch Loop (4, Informative)

deathcloset (626704) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617929)

The launch loop still requires classic reentry for space vehicles.

This is still a fantastic idea for getting things up, though.

It's just getting back down that runs into the same old problems (and comming down from space gently is one of the best (most overlooked) features of a space elevator).

Its nicer to repel than base-jump.

Re:Launch Loop (1)

gurudyne (126096) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618003)

Actually, you can use more than one launch loop - one up to speed up and one to slow down. Just like regenerative braking.

Using the lower "return" line wouldn't work as well since the upper "go" line is in the way of easy approaches.

Re:Launch Loop (1)

kevlar (13509) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618004)

Everyone needs to realize that nobody alive today will live to see a space elevator in use. It's not going to happen for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the fact that the material to be used to create the elevator cable is still highly theoretical that it could be put to such a use. Yes, carbon nanotubes have been created, but within a lab and only a miniscule amount.

Re:Launch Loop (1)

Kazzahdrane (882423) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617967)

Well the intro of the pdf is fascinating but I honestly can't understand the diagrams. Any chance you could give us a simple explanation of how the Launch Loops works?

Re:Launch Loop (1)

56ker (566853) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617989)

Basically having read the start of the pdf I think they're planning on having a very, very long (2000km) maglev track that can accelerate the vehicles on it all the way up to escape velocity. At least that's how I see it anyway...

Re:Launch Loop (2, Insightful)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618017)

Which is SO possible with 20 year old technology, considering we are today still struggling to build maglev TRAIN tracks without them failing, not to speak of a 2000km long track into space . I always love how so many stuff is claimed to be "perfectly possible"...

difference between the two: (4, Insightful)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617991)

Launch Loop presentation [launchloop.com] and Space Elevator presentation [liftport.com] .

For large projects to be realized, they either have to be of decisive strategic/military value during war (Manhattan project), or they have to completely capture the hearts of the citizens that are supposed to pay for it all (Apollo Project, "before this decade is out..."). Clearly, for the Space Elevator, the latter is the case. I, for one, have not heard of Launch Loop before, and the dry PDFs and text files that are Google's #1 on the term didn't really invite me to care about it. The Space Elevator, on the other hand, has been part of the popular culture for decades, and has recently surged astronomically (no pun intended) in terms of mainstream recognition.

Just as it would have been more affordable and scientifically more valuable to gradually conquer space and ultimately the moon (i.e. with manned space stations and a launch from space etc.), it was the extreme appeal of the "moon shot", the giant leap that won the favor over the more economical approach.

Re:Launch Loop (1)

0olong (876791) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618015)

The Launch Loop seems to be a variation to the Space Fountain concept.

Some more info: Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

private ventures (2, Informative)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617819)

this is where private ventures come in. let them take the risks and develope the tech. i'm dubious about space evelvators, but hell it's at least possible in theory if you can find materials that will last

Hmmm.... (2, Interesting)

Chanc_Gorkon (94133) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617821)

A space elevator will be made of carbon fiber nanotubes correct?? What would be the effect on a hurricane hitting the elevator? Can the string be realed in from one end?? Would it be more prudent to build this in a place far away from a coastline??

Re:Hmmm.... (2, Interesting)

deanoaz (843940) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617879)

>>> Would it be more prudent to build this in a place far away from a coastline??

After reading "Red Mars" I don't think it will matter where you build it. If it comes down it will leave a path of destruction all the way around the Earth's circumference.

Besides, the termination point needs to be easily accessible or you negate much of the advantage of having the elevator.

Re:Hmmm.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617950)

Put it in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The only real natural threat is earthquakes. Other than that, things are delightful. Add to that it has established road, water, and rail ways which can easily be utilized for transporting freight to the elevator.

Re:Hmmm.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617935)

A space elevator will be made of carbon fiber nanotubes correct??

I doubt it. Carbon fibers aren't good enough, despite the fanboy reaction...

"... structures so strong that one the width of a human hair could lift a car, were invented."

It's a real shame they can't MAKE cabon nanotubes the width of a human hair. The space elevator will have to lift a hell of a lot more mass than a car.

All a space elevator will be is a target for terrorism.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618020)

Short answer: it would have to survive any hurricane that passed it. If it broke... it could cut a path of destruction that would make a hurricane look like child's play....

I'm not sure what would happen if you tried to reel in the cable from the Earth side.

You could, in theory, reel it into the orbiting satellite. However, as you did, you would be pulling the satellite closer to earth. Since the satellite's mass would be much smaller than the mass of the cable, you can pretty much assume it would begin to fall out of orbit long before you got the cable reeled all the way in.

Not saying it couldn't be done, but it would take a lot of fuel to stabilize the orbit....

What about rescues? (3, Interesting)

saskboy (600063) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617823)

Why isn't this stuff being used as an emergency rescue material, to make ladders that can be telescoped up to the 30th floor of skyscrapers? Surely there could be less ambitious projects for this material before committing to something that has to deal with the extreme stresses and temperatures in space and the upper atmosphere?

Make a model of a space ladder/elevator, by designing something that can save lives here at home, and it will take off like a rocket in the public's eye, pardon the pun.

Re:What about rescues? (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617913)

Because the technology does only exist in science fiction novels....

Re:What about rescues? (4, Informative)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617941)

It's not that easy, the space elevator is supposed to work because it has (will have) a counterweight on geosynchronous orbit that keeps the elevator in place. The space elevator is more like a string tied to a balloon than a wooden stick.

Re:What about rescues? (1)

Council (514577) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617956)

Why isn't this stuff being used as an emergency rescue material, to make ladders that can be telescoped up to the 30th floor of skyscrapers?

It's not that kind of ladder. It's a lot more like a rope.

Re:What about rescues? (2, Interesting)

temojen (678985) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618007)

They have high tensile strength, but not high compressive strength. It'd be like trying to push a rope up to the 30th floor.

Space grade carbon nanotubes (1, Insightful)

canadiangoose (606308) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617825)

I though that carbon nanotube technology was still in it's infancy, and that they would not be able to product suitable ones for at least another 5 or 10 years. Sure we can grow a few small ones in a lab, sure they're strong, but we're not talking about a small amount of tubing here.

By the same logic, my computer should be running off of a fuel cell right now, cars should be driving them selves, and world hunger should be solved. I mean really pleople, we have the technology, right?

nyet-o-tubes (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617826)


We're nowhere near ready to start manufacturing tubes suitable for use in an elevator cable. (Maybe you've noticed their lack of use elsewhere.)

Re:nyet-o-tubes (1)

deathcloset (626704) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617892)

Perhaps if more research was being done into their manufacture we would already have them elsewhere.

But instead time and money is spent on revamping the Apollo capsule (nevertheless, a good revamp to be fair).

Re:nyet-o-tubes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617924)

As a matter of fact TONS of commercial research is being done in this field. The ability to replace steel cable with something 100x or 1000x lighter and stronger has HUGE commercial potential that has nothing to do with space.

The fact is we don;t have it and if NASA spent every dollar on research it would not make it go any faster.

Re:nyet-o-tubes (1)

deathcloset (626704) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618014)

I would change the first of your two hyperbolics from "TONS of" to "much".

I do, however, agree with your second uppercase word.

NASA got to the moon in 10 years, developed tons of technology doing so. How could you honestly think that additional (read: TONS more) resources dedicated to this research would not increase the rate and improve the quality of the results?

god, responding to ACs feels like arguing with yourself.

Re:nyet-o-tubes (2, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617990)

I don't think that's the right way to think of it. Call it stepping stones. There's no point in abandoning short term projects for a long term one. There's no point in completely abandoning known working tech for something that's totally theoretical.

It's probably a lot cheaper to "revamp the Apollo capsule" than it is to insist on such a great leap in tech, that tech being more of a curiosity at the moment than anything else. Taking things too radically different is what got us the Space Shuttle, when Soyuz+Mir and Soyuz+ISS has been doing far better, being older tech yet.

So far, despite the significant amount of research, I don't think the nanotubes have been made in kilometers, never mind 33000 kilometers or whatever it is necessary, and there are a lot of logistical issues.

Doom and gloom (5, Funny)

millisa (151093) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617830)

I like the idea of the space elevator . . . but won't it be a prime target for terrorist attacks? I mean, if I was a terrorist, it'd be the first place I'd direct my hijacked pla . . . moment, there's a knock at my door.

Longest Carbon Nanotube? (1)

Henry V .009 (518000) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617832)

Oh yeah, let's spend our money on a space elevator. The world's longest carbon nanotubes are what, half a centimeter in length right now? That means only 62,000 miles - .5 cm to go!

Ten orders of magnitude (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618012)

As a Slashdotter said once: build me a 40,000 millimeter bridge across a gulch on a campus, and then we can start to talk about a 40,000 kilometer bridge straight up.

So we're still four orders of magnitude from the point where we can usefully consider the remaining six orders.

Article in IEEE Spectrum (5, Informative)

cetialphav (246516) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617841)

The August issue of IEEE Spectrum also had a story about the space elevator. This article is available online here [ieee.org] . Not knowing much about the space elevator, I found this article very informative.

Burn up (1, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617844)

People keep saying if it fell it would burn up, but it would seem to me that something strong enough to support all the weight needed would be strong enough to withstand any heat generated by falling.
Considering that it wouldn't betravelling that fast, I don't see how it could generate a lot of heat. Compared to say a shuttle reentry.

Wouldn't we also need to build it from space down?

All this is mute until we can make nano tubes as easily and reliable as we make rope.

Re:Burn up (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617871)

People keep saying if it fell it would burn up, but it would seem to me that something strong enough to support all the weight needed would be strong enough to withstand any heat generated by falling.
Diamond is one of the hardest substances around... but see what you are left with when you throw one into a fire.

Re:Burn up (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617932)

Except this isn't a fire.

For example, the shuttle travels around the earth onces every 90 minutes, making it's speed about 12,000 miles per hour relative to a fixed point on earth.

the counter weight is traveling at 0 mph compared to a stationary point on earth.

it won't have enough speed behind it to generate much friction.

Re:Burn up (2, Informative)

Xarius (691264) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617914)

All this is mute until we can make nano tubes as easily and reliable as we make rope.

So no-one is able to speak aloud about it?

Ooooooh, you mean moot [reference.com] !

</pedant>

Re:Burn up (1)

DeltaFour (718851) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617939)

I recall from physics class that the heat generated on reentry may not necessarily be due to "friction" between the object and the surrounding air, but rather due to the increased pressure that the object creates in the air immediately in front of it. The increase in pressure results in an increase in temperature. If this is correct, then I would not expect a falling space elevator to suffer any heat damage as it starts from a relative velocity of zero and its diameter is small enough that it would not create a significant pressure difference.

Note that I am not a rocket scientist, so I would welcome any corrections.

Mute? (1)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617985)

You want moot [webster.com] third usage (adjective) second definition (academic).

<teacher style="english">A spelling checker is no substitute for a dictionary!</teacher>

-Peter

3? (1, Insightful)

hunterx11 (778171) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617846)

I can understand the occasional typo slipping through, but three? Come on; dupe or don't proofread, but don't do both.

Musak... (1)

Chysn (898420) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617847)

...will partner with NASA to make great strides in space elevator music.

Some Engineer (1)

EricCamden (916588) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617848)

The guy actually spelled "nuclear" "nucular". Yikes. I hope that was a subtle joke.

Space elevator musac? (2, Funny)

Safe Sex Goddess (910415) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617850)

What would you recommend for space elevator musac?

It's going to be one hell of a long ride and I'd hate to overdose on strings.

Re:Space elevator musac? (4, Funny)

Herkum01 (592704) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617971)

Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven"! :)

LOL Glenn Reynolds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617853)

In his dreams, he's Ariel Sharon's man-wife.

Yes and No (4, Interesting)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617854)

The space elevator seems to be still hovering at that point where it certainly looks to be theoretically feasible, but where no one really has a clear path towards bringing this construct about in reality. (Or is it that there are still a few people laughing at the idea, if you know what I mean?). It seems to me that it would be foolish for NASA to abandon its current plans in favour of this unproven idea, yet it might be wise to throw some money and effort at it.
It would cost about $6 billion in today's dollars just to complete the structure itself, according to my study
I've heard a similar figure before, and it's amazingly cheap if you think about it. We, as a silly small country, have blown close to this amount on a couple of utterly useless railroad lines. If we could have had a working space elevator instead...

Why the Space Elevator looks cheap (1)

mark99 (459508) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617855)

If you can invest a few billion and get much cheap access, then doing anything else is obviously irrational.

OTOH, I seriouly doubt the ability of the US goverment to do anything cheaply. That is the real problem.

Rocket powered spaceflight should be much cheaper than it is today as well, and that sorry fact is what makes the SE look so attactive.

Re:Why the Space Elevator looks cheap (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617966)

"OTOH, I seriouly doubt the ability of the US goverment to do anything cheaply. That is the real problem."

not as big of a problem as most people think.
OTOH,most people have no idea what it takes to do something, and are completly oblivious to the waste produced by the private sector.

If you look at the public records for most agencies, you will find surprisingly little waste.

Engineer's perspective (2, Funny)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617856)

First of all, the ribbon idea won't work, it will get curled up since it will stretch unevenly and wind and dirt will do the rest. The only practical shape for a rope is a round one. Secondly, building a climber with motors and lasers and crap is totally ridiculous, unbalanced and inefficient. Put a friggen pully at the counterweight, with solar panels and an electric motor and another damn pully at the bottom with another motor, then run two cars up and down. Then the system is balanced. Yes, the two cars will probably bang against each other when passing - so slow down when halfway and shape them to handle it so they won't get stuck even if the ropes are twisted. KISS.

another engineer's perspective (1)

klossner (733867) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617915)

Counterweights won't work. As a car approaches the upper station, its weight diminishes to zero.

Re:another engineer's perspective (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617970)

the counterweight is the part of the structure beyond GEO which maintains tension on the cable because it is being pushed out by centrifugal force. (pseudoforce if you're a pedant)

Re:Engineer's perspective (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617947)

Further, the ribbon has to taper to allow the thing to not break, so the pulley idea is unworkable.

The future! (1)

Kazzahdrane (882423) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617858)

Ever since I read the last chapter of The Science of the Discworld I've been interested in Space Elevators and have watched /. for stories about them. I think the main reason people seem wary of really going for the idea (apart from the large technological research that would be required to make it work) is a feeling of "This is a little too sci-fi for real life", which is understandable considering Arthur C Clark wrote about space elevators in his novels decades ago. But this is a real concept that could make space exploration and travel a very accessible, and perhaps most importantly cheaper. Instead of spending gazzillions of dollars on blasting ships off our planet laden with expensive fuel we can launch them from a "platform" above the atmosphere where the energy required to escape the Earth's orbit is a fraction of that required to do it from the planet's surface, where we must first escape the strong gravity within the atmosphere. Apologies if I've rambled, I just think this is where NASA should be going.

Re:The future! (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617992)

What most people worry about is what happens when it comes down? and someday it will come down, maybe by design, or maybe by an accident.

Re:The future! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13618018)

Parent writes: ...a feeling of "This is a little too sci-fi for real life", which is understandable considering Arthur C Clark wrote about space elevators in his novels decades ago. OTOH, to put the "sci-fi" in perspective, Jules Verne wrote about ballistic space travel in 1865. (Not that I necessarily disagree with you.)

Engineers != People who care about cost factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13617862)

"it has been a viable option since carbon nanotubes, structures so strong that one the width of a human hair could lift a car"

Yeah, but how much does a carbon nanotube cost in comparison to a car mechanic with lift down at your local jiffy lube?

Thought so. Thanks for playing. Time to go back to the server room.

Money (3, Insightful)

imunfair (877689) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617863)

I know we have to plan for the future and all, but since Mars travel probably won't be viable or even valuable for another 60 to 80 years (by which time I'll probably be dead) I would much rather have a nice reduction in taxes.

How about this - reduce our taxes a bit, and for the non-critical portion of our taxes let us choose what program they go toward funding. Some people might choose a government funded AIDS cure - some might choose Mars exploration ... but I really think the people should be allowed to choose which optional programs get their money - if it really needs to be taken from them in the first place.

Re:Money (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618022)

sure, cut taxes todaym, that way will never get to Mars.

" but I really think the people should be allowed to choose which optional programs get their money "

That would be a night mare and be far more wastefully then anything thats going on.

Your taxes are not you monay, they are the publics monies. There is a difference.

Taxes is a far cheaper way to pay for some things then it would every be in the private sector.

It's a wonderful idea. (1)

uberred (584819) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617868)

However, what needs to happen first, is for us to our technology to the point where we have a high-yield, low-failure rate method of producing carbon nanotubes. It's not there yet, and I don't think it will be here for a number of years. This is not to say that there aren't good minds working on it, because there are - the University of Utah, where I study, has a team of some of the best physicists and engineers devoted to the study and fabrication of carbon nanostructures. Also there is the consideration of money. Research projects can be expensive, especially for something as groundbreaking as efficient fabrication of carbon nanotubes. It is entirely plausible that the money being funneled to carbon nanostructure research projects adds up to as much, if not more, than NASA is spending on conventional spaceflight. All this said, I think he's closer to right than wrong - space elevators would be a *massively* better way to get stuff out of the gravity well than throwing like ten metric arseloads of rocket fuel at the problem.

I dont get it... (4, Insightful)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617872)

Maybe i am a bit out of touch (although i doubt it, being physicist and seeing people who actively work in the nanoparticle research and astrophysics department everyday), but i think this is all such a bullshit.

Space elevator this, space elevator that. Its just a pie-in-the-sky dream, and will be for the next century(ies). We dont have bucktubes "thick as a hair but strong enough to lift a car".
We dont even have them a meter long and strong enough to lift an apple.
And even than, it took millenia to get from iron->steel->a few km steel wire for bridges/ect.
Singularity this or that, you shouldnt expect something like the support of the golden gate bridge via nanotube based cables the next decade(s)
(not even mentioning the hurdles of a structure 30.000km+ long and sturdy enough to support the lifting vehicle and atmospheric conditions).

Also, the best we ever did concerning long wires and space was a test a few years ago, where they even failed to unwind a 300km, unstained wire in free space.

Not to mention that to get the whole framework running you need an efficent way of getting material and people up there to begin with... without a shuttle mk2 or 3 or 4 or 5 there is not even a point to start the whole shit.

But it seems nowaydays you only need to throw some buzzwords like "nanotubes" into the crowed and they would believe you even if you promised them portable teleporters...

Re:I dont get it... (4, Funny)

cephyn (461066) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617987)

You make a good point. nanotube based teleporters would be faster and more cost-effective than a space elevator!

I say we put $12bn or so into nanotube powered teleporters. who's with me!?

Re:I dont get it... (1)

Kazzahdrane (882423) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617999)

You never sent that portable teleporter I ordered! I'll give you one last chance to stick it in a portable teleporter...

Logically speaking... (2, Interesting)

RandomPrecision (911416) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617880)

"an engineer's perspective (although admittadly still not a rocket scientist)"

That's even better, because this is an engineering project, not rocketry.

The first thing that I thought of when I first heard about this is what a great terrorist target it would make. You could shoot at it for many miles around, which might not affect it much if it's as strong as it sounds like the material is, but one would be able to see when it was in use. It's unrealistic to think that people around the world would constantly be taking impudent potshots at anything with any accuracy, but still, it remains a very visible target, and one that would be very difficult to replace.

On a different note, I see that this would be a social and cultural catalyst. What if we build this elevator in the US, and China wants to use it? It would seem wasteful to demand that China build their own space elevator to do exactly the same. Either we would allow other nations to use the elevator as well, thereby showing at least superficial unity, or we say that we have the world's only space elevator, and if China wants one, they must build their own, which would almost certainly dampen relations.

I won't speculate on what will happen, but I think either eventual harmony or inevitable conflict would be accelerated by something of this magnitude.

Re:Logically speaking... (1)

GiSqOd (793295) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617928)

I won't speculate on what will happen, but I think either eventual harmony or inevitable conflict would be accelerated by something of this magnitude.

So this will either make things eventually better or inevitably worse?

Good to know.

*head explodes*

Re:Logically speaking... (1)

Kazzahdrane (882423) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617952)

Build it in Scotland. We could use the tourism and both Americans and Chinese people love visiting here anyway. I'd just laugh if the country that actually built it was Costa Rica or somewhere and told everyone else to fuck off.

Could have one by now if... (1)

Stripsurge (162174) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617887)

..all they money from lost hours of Slashdoters reading the constant barrage of space elevator "news" went towards building the damn thing. Hell, if we included lost time/$$$ due to dupes we could throw in a Mars colony while we're at it.

Build a prototype on the moon or something (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617889)

This is a Big Risk If Disaster Happens project, both during construction and after completion. I know *I* don't want to be nearby if something major goes wrong. Do you?

Let's build some prototypes in space first, then on the moon or other reasonably massive body.

When we've built enough that we are sure the kinks are mostly worked out, THEN build them from earth to the sky.

I'm optimistic that an earth-based elevator can be done safely within 10 years of proving one on a heavy-mass celestial body.

So, lift a car first. (5, Insightful)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617890)

> The challenges are many, but it has been a viable option since carbon nanotubes, structures so strong that one the width of a human hair could lift a car, were invented.

No, it hasn't.

The space elevator will become viable when someone creates a strand of carbon nanotube and lifts a car with it.

If you want to make me believe that a carbon nanotube space elevator is a viable proposition, demostrate that you can build a carbon nanotube suspension bridge first.

Doesn't have to be a replacement for the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate. A footpath over a creek at your local engineering college will do.

Until then, you're as likely to go into orbit on a space elevator's as you are on a matter/antimatter drive: as in "not at all".

Don't need no scientists to build the Elevator (1)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617894)

We know the ribbon material (carbon nanotubes), we know the climber technology (trivial), we know how to dig a deep hole and pour concrete into it as a fundament. And that's about all there is to the Space Elevator.

Of course, a lot of smart people (plus politicians/lawyers) will have to consider where to build it and how to protect it from various dangers, i.e. sabotage, accident, weather, etc., how to achieve step 3 (profit!), and how to use it as the biggest sling there ever was. But the actual, biggest challenge will be to build it at all, which includes manufacturing the ribbon fibre in sufficient length and strength, and as far as I understand it, this is mainly an tinkering/engineering problem. The technolog is there, now it "only" has to be improved to a degree that we can start talking business.

A matter of time (4, Informative)

lightyear4 (852813) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617896)

The LiftPort Group of companies working towards a space-elevator are making a great deal of progress. Slashdot reported on the faa approval [slashdot.org] of their high altitude tests, for example. See here [liftport.com] and here [liftport.com] for more LiftPort specific information. Check here [www.isr.us] and here here [www.isr.us] for several reports concerning the viability of the elevator -- be sure to check the NIAC pdf. Blaise Gassend has a great collection of information [mit.edu] . Finally, though carbon nanotubes are still in their infancy (its been a little around ten years since they were discovered) - their theoretical tensile strengths are perfect for application in a space elevator construction. This recent development [anl.gov] spells a rosy future, and many innovations yet to come.

The elevator study is flawed, NASA is cowardly (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617910)

The proposal to take 12 years to replicate what we achieved ofer 35 years ago in only 9 years is ridiculous and excessively priced. The problem is that the engineering talent isn't at NASA anymore, they cant look beyond doing the same design that has been done over and over since von Braun, and the whole setup is just a welfare program for bloated aerospace conglomorates.

On the otherhand, the study that purported to show that a space elevator could be built for a few billion dollars is sheer fanasy. Single-walled Carbon nanotubes still cost hundreds of dollars a gram, and the price has not been falling all hat quickly in spite of the many uses we already have found. 600 million grams of them to make a first elevator will not be cheap enough to allow the projected budget to be met. Further, no one has made a macroscopic amount of any material that would meet the strength requirements of an elevator, let alone the density, weldability, splicability, or wear, oxygen, and electrical resistence requrements. The lasers for power are speculative and will certainly be unbelivably inefficient and costly. Even if microwave poer transmission can be arranged with suitably low antenna sizes on the climber, the cost for the floating base station off the coast of Ecuador alone would run more than the entir projected budget. It's just not an engineering option at this point. By all means give it a couple billion a year in research dollars to small, nimble firms like the one that produced the study. It's the best long-term strategy for space that's on the drawing board. But dont insult everyone's intelligence by saying the whole thing can be done in 15 years for $20 billion. Thirty years and $500 billion is a better guess - but still quick and cheap at the price.

A worthwhile endeavor but change comes at a price (1)

menorikey (915085) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617926)

"...and will force NASA to change just about everything they do."

Therein lies part of the problem of resistance. Think of the old dogs working at NASA who are very good at what they do but possess specialized skills and knowledge that may not lend themselves as well to building a space elevator as they do to sending objects into orbit using current modes of transportation. Continuing education and cross-training is one thing; restructing job duties and/or phasing out unnecessary positions (such as those presently required for current trasport) at a governmental agency level is simply a can of worms waiting to be opened.

A worthwhile endeavor indeed, but the approach will have to be sent through 72 review committees and beaten to death where people eventually forget why they're meeting in the first place (aka death by committee) long before a space elevator ever develops beyond the gleam in a few visionaries' eyes.

Did you know.... (1)

slashname3 (739398) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617937)

Did you know that elevators smell different to midgets?

This should hold true for space elevators as well.

That's one small step for man... (5, Funny)

Chysn (898420) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617938)

...one giant leap for the first wise ass to press all the buttons (Troposphere, Stratosphere, Mesosphere, Thermosphere, Exosphere...) and piss off the other astronauts.

A Cheap trip to the moon isn't Politically Correct (1)

Mr. Lwanga (872401) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617943)

How could any president reward his corporate donors with a low cost space program? Take a look at recent military or highway bills, there is more pork than substance. The only way to build space elevators is make them more expensive than rockets.

How Come ... (1)

polyp2000 (444682) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617979)

Strangely (sideline) I typed into google "when did man first land on the moon?" the first 9 results related to articles relating to theorys about it being a hoax, and the last was about a film in 1964. -- google needs to give better results than that!

Anyhow... my point was the Space Race which started ~1957 by 1969 the first mission to the moon began. From basically having little or no technology to do so resulted in Armstrong planting his footsteps on our lunar friend and quoting those famous words. It took 12 years for us to achieve such a wondrous goal. So how come its going to take us 15 years (goal being 2020) to do it again? (considering we are so much more technologically advanced than we were back then)

Nick ...

Wasted money. (1)

nEoN nOoDlE (27594) | more than 8 years ago | (#13617983)

I would prefer a space escalator. Just don't let the kids play on it.

KE = 0.5 * m * v^2 (5, Insightful)

klossner (733867) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618005)

Structural engineering issues aside, the big problem with space elevators is the junk in low earth orbit. If a 200 kg object hits the structure at a relative velocity of 15,000 MPH, it will release energy equivalent to one ton of TNT.

Nanotubes (1)

JK1150 (897112) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618009)

Wikipedia says nanotubes erode because of atomic oxygen in Earth's upper atmosphere. So much for that idea.

The real reason this isn't being built... (2, Insightful)

siwelwerd (869956) | more than 8 years ago | (#13618019)

...is that rockets/space shuttles garner much better publicity. Until they blow up, at least.
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