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Interview with Dr. Bradley C. Edwards

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the no-elevator-like-caffeine dept.

Space 118

Keith Curtis writes "I recently discovered that Dr. Bradley C. Edwards, noted expert on the Space Elevator pays $4 for coffee at the same Starbucks that I do. I asked him if he would meet up with me and chat and he graciously agreed. I recorded the interview for posterity. In our wide-ranging conversation we talked about NASA politics, getting energy from space, location, space tourism, software, nanotech, and several other topics."

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Edited off the start of the interview (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13797967)

Keith Curtis: Excuse me, aren't you Dr. Bradley C. Edwards... THE Dr. Bradley C. Edwards, noted expert on the Space Elevator?

Dr. Bradley C. Edwards: Yes. Aren't you the guy that that's been stalking me for the past year? THE guy I have a restraining order against?

Keith Curtis: Guilty as charged! Now that we have introductions out of the way, can I have an interview for my blog?! I'll pay for your Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato.

Dr. Bradley C. Edwards: Alright, since you already know what I order on Wednesdays, I might as well.

Keith Curtis: AWESOME! I'm gonna be famous on /.!!!!


WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 8 years ago | (#13797997)



Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798175)



Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798680)



Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798835)



justins (80659) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800255)

Baited breath!


Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13797978)

IT Smells like GRAVITY!

The Space Elevator is a great idea, (1, Funny)

mtec (572168) | more than 8 years ago | (#13797995)

with no place to go but up!

Re:The Space Elevator is a great idea, (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798045)

As far as i know, the only problem is that it will take you more than 2 days to go up.

Might be a good idea to get that 60gb ipod if you didn't already. I'dd hate to listen to elevator music for two days straight.

Re:The Space Elevator is a great idea, (1)

SteveAyre (209812) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798912)

Shoot the Muzak speakers :o) It'll be at least 4 days before they repair them. Heaven.

But I'm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798149)

But I'm afraid of heights, you insensitive clod!

damn trolls (0, Offtopic)

soapdog (773638) | more than 8 years ago | (#13797999)

heck, I was really going to do a usefull post about nano tech and the space elevator and giant springs but I could not resist myself and decided go on the lines of FIRST P0ST!!!!!!!!!!!

Re:damn trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798117)

It's 2005 and Slashdot STILL lacks a "you fail it" mod option. Hopefully this will be fixed next now that they've finally improved their compliance with other web standards. Personally I think that this problem should have been fixed first.

Re:damn trolls (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798129)

hah, u lose teh slashdot game. u not the first p0stah

Site slashdotted, article text here (5, Informative)

rastakid (648791) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798002)

Interview with Dr. Bradley Edwards
October 14, 2005 on 1:28 pm | In Uncategorized |
Seattle, A Hotbed For Space Elevator Development?

KC: My jaw dropped when I went to my nearest Starbucks, saw your artwork on the wall, and realized that you lived in Seattle. How long have you been here? It doesn't exactly seem to be a hotbed for space elevator work...

BE: I did my work for NIAC (NASA Institute For Advanced Concepts) here in 2000, and then moved back in June. I was working with people everywhere; most of the collaboration was virtual, and many folks I didn't meet until the end. I don't think I met Eric Westling until after we published our book (The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System). A few people I'm currently working with I still haven't met. I don't work with people just because they're local, I have to find people I think are the best. It depends on what I'm working on. It's an effort that can be largely broken up into sections. "Here is the anchor station, go do it." Actually, it's great that I don't have to have everyone in the same room because it's just not possible.

I tried to look up your biography on the Internet, and couldn't track down some of the organizations you've worked in. Some of them are probably from the early Internet days...

We've been trying to get various projects started. A few were a few false starts, or in some cases just testing the waters. HighLift Systems was a Seattle-based company, and was one of those false starts. I closed it down. I'm not affiliated with LiftPort. I have worked with LiftPort's founder Michael Laine a bit at HighLift in Seattle before we parted ways. [Not on the best of terms; juicy but unsubstantiated gossip about LiftPort removed, Meow!! -ed]
NASA Versus Private Industry

Did you see Michael Griffin's interview in USA Today last week?

No, but I know the general gist. It's not a surprise. In my mind the Space Shuttle and Space Station are not valuable efforts. It's not what NASA should be doing. NASA is using technology from commercial enterprises, or very old technology from the 70's to try and do space exploration. If they are going to be a real premier space agency, they need to be pushing it.

They should be doing stuff which looks to us like science fiction...

It shouldn't be science fiction, but they should be pushing the boundaries and doing work that inspires. That's what Apollo was. The technology for Apollo existed before the program started; they took that knowledge and pushed it to its limits, and it literally inspired the world.

I wasn't around then, but it seems like peoplecared what NASA did back then. NASA has their Moon and Mars pictures up on their website, but I don't know if anyone cares. If you squint as you look, you'd think it was 1930.

It is history; it's old news. And since then, they've done very little.

It seems like there was a long-standing debate between rockets and the Space Shuttle. From where you sit, that's like choosing between Nicki and Paris Hilton.

Even high up in NASA management, they won't officially say it - but they have said it directly to me - that nothing substantial in space can be done with rockets. A federal program with lots of money can take some people up there, but it won't be able to commercialize space. We've been going at it for thirty-five years now, and we've put up telecommunications systems and GPS. If there's a buck to be made and a product to be built, it'll get done. With current technology, I think we've developed space commercially as far as we can. We need something dramatically different--a brand new market, a brand new technology.

Economists should get that. How did trains and highways change America?

Private enterprise is starting to get it. NASA hasn't shown much interest on the space elevator, but there are a number of private entities that have.

But we just laughed at a bunch of them: HighLift, LiftPort. Do any of them have billions of dollars?

There are real people with money and the know-how. To get it going you don't need ten billion dollars. You'll need a couple of billion up front, and a lot can be financed. For example, instead of money changing hands, you could approach Hyundai and, ignoring the issues of dealing with a foreign company, offer them 10% of the company. They could then supply the anchor station and the climbers or whatever. Either they as a company would invest, or maybe the government of South Korea would invest. But dealing with South Korea would bring up all kinds of technology transfer export issues which may make it unfeasible - perhaps a company like Exxon might be approachable. Private individuals, financial groups - there are a lot of people who could step up.

In principle, we shouldn't be waiting for our government to throw big money at it.

No, no. We are getting a few million to develop the last needed parts of the technology, developing the high-strength materials needed, creating a Research and Development center, performing other engineering work, cleaning up some of the loose ends, and doing some promotional work to let people know the concept exists and where we are at with it. Money could be leveraged to get more development done until the risks are reduced; then we can approach the real people with money.

A space elevator seems like a task of the same complexity as the Apollo mission was, and maybe private enterprise could have tackled even that project. Perhaps the 21st century is different, but it seems like a task as big as that would require government's involvement.

It is similar in size to that, but it's also similar in size to the Boston Big Dig. It's small compared to, say, rebuilding New Orleans in money or effort. There's different technology and risks than the Apollo mission presented, but the full effort and capabilities aren't that different.

The Apollo program didn't have a commerical endpoint. It set a goal of putting a man on the moon, which it was an enormous engineering effort. But the space elevator is a commercial effort. The Apollo, the Shuttle, the Space Station were never that.

They certainly sold us on that vision...

They sold us on that vision, but it was never that way, which is unfortunate.

You present a vision in which we don't need NASA. Perhaps that's true, but if what NASA's doing isn't useful to us, can they be refocused to help us? Is that a goal for you? Is it possible?

I'm not working toward that. I worked at Los Alamos and I've seen how NASA operates. Their primary goal is not the development of space. They are a space agency, but they are very political. It's a political organization; it's a federal agency. Even if one of the NASA centers became completely useless, it wouldn't get closed down because there are thousands of jobs there.

They're a huge organization and they're doing lots of things.

Yes, and that means they can't be focused. They can't trim off something to go do something else. Their hands are very well tied because of the requirements of the real world and society's constraints of what they can and cannot do.

I look at NASA as a company doing lots of interesting things. I can't say whether ramjets and so forth is interesting, but it is research, and it's their mission. So what part would you cut?

That's exactly it - what part would be cut. For NASA to go off and do something new and different, they'd have to take people or build a virtual organization from all the different centers and work together, which is very difficult. So they'd have to start a new center because it's difficult to reorganize or refocus the old stuff. It's the same with the national labs.

So are you resigned to the fact that Michael Griffin's successor is going to do another mea-culpa in 20 years? The space elevator will be flying on by, and NASA will be stuck with their tiny little rockets and lunar landers.

Well, NASA will continue to do what they've always done, which is to provide employment.


That's their primary goal. They can do research, and the space elevator would open up new areas for them to do cutting-edge research. In some cases they really are; in other cases, they are sort of floundering about trying be something that they aren't. With a space elevator, NASA could build probes that they weren't able to do before; they could do new research on different applications of the space elevator and new applications of space, but unfortunately NASA has trouble just doing the main infrastructure and large program pieces.

But they did build the Apollo, and the Space Shuttle is a tremendous achievement.

It is, but NASA is a different organization today. The Shuttle was designed in the 1970s, right after Apollo. Today, you have a very different organization with different capabilities.

But I don't know if they've completely lost 'the right stuff.' They can maintain it, and they do understand it. Hasn't that knowledge and experience been transferred from engineer to engineer? In the software world, there's code rot because everyone who has worked on the code has since gone elsewhere.

They can maintain it because it's all built up. They started the Shuttle in the 1970's when NASA was still new and flexible enough to move into new areas and design a new program such as the Shuttle. Also it wasn't far enough from Apollo that they could take people from there and go do it. Now, however, the idea of taking a fair chunk of people with very different expertise and focusing them on one mission is very difficult.

Apollo was fantastic. The Shuttle is an amazing machine. I look at the space elevator and think of it as doable, but by the same token I look at the Shuttle and ask myself how it could possibly be built. There are 3 million parts, it's exremely complex, and it does work.

Do you think they have the technical skills anymore?

They have so many people with so many different skills - if you tried to put them all on the space elevator project, there would be a fair fraction of people that wouldn't find a role.

NASA could just create new teams and move appropriate people over. I jumped from group to group in a software company, each time learning a new skillset...

Yes, but if you had a group of, say, geologists, would you put them on carbon nanotubes??

Okay, then, the space elevator doesn't have work for them. You would let them continue their research.

But there are geologists and plasma physicists and people who design gamma ray detectors - all of these people have niches, some of which would be helpful, but a lot are simply overkill for what we need. They are studying planets and the moon and Mars and asteroids and such, but the organization is just hard to fit into a whole new entity. It would be like asking NASA to go and build ocean-going ships. You just can't refocus an entire organization such as NASA.

Going back to rockets is a still big step for NASA. Perhaps you could say that forty years on and all they're doing is updating the software, but even that is a large engineering effort.

There are real problems with that. If they were to start a new program to build a new launch vehicle (which is what they should be doing), grabbing an F-1 rocket for the new venture is reverting back to 1950's technology. They are still going to have to redesign it, because that '50's technology is no longer valid today. Why not start from scratch and do the best you can? In the end, NASA is still living with rockets, and it won't turn into a self-sustaining endeavor. It will end as soon as the government funding is shut off, which it will be eventually. Administrations change and the world changes - eventually something else will happen that preoccupies the Administration, and they'll say "We are done with this."

I think Bush thinks big enough to spend the political capital and billions of dollars, but you never know with future Presidents.

Yes, you'll never know about the next one, or the next one after that.

I thought I remembered hearing about Mars and the date 2040, but I looked around and couldn't find anything.

There isn't a defined timetable beyond 2020, and that's already four Administrations away.

We'll still have John Roberts... One thing I've thought about is how rockets have made people lose faith in the mission. People look at the moon and say "F*ck it, why should we bother, we just got out of a gravity well." Our current technology limits our thinking about what's possible and reasonable.

The moon is an ambition, but not a valuable end unto itself. If you're going to go to the moon you need a goal, like setting up a base, or mining the moon, or installing solar power arrays or something.

I think Bush believes that it's a 384,000 km warmup lap for everything else, and I think there's a lot of wisdom in that.

Well, then the question is, "Why are you going to Mars?"

We've always known that going to Mars is a good thing! We are just now coming to realize that going to the moon isn't. We used to think the moon was a good thing.

Going to the Mars is a very complex endeavor, so you need to have a reason.

We're convincing ourselves that going to the Moon isn't a good thing, so convincing ourselves not to go to Mars seems to be next. At that point, no one will dream anymore.

If we are going to Mars just because it's there, that's not self-sustaining. It's very likely that it will get killed once we've done it; then it will shut back down (just like Apollo) because it's not self-sustaining. Then you go through the whole cycle again in another thirty years.

Someone from Slashdot made the comment that we'll do this mission, pop open a brewski, and proclaim, "Yep, still got it."

Which brings up the problem that if China, South Korea or Europe plans out how to do it commercially, and for example gets infrastructures set up, then they'll have a commercially self-sustaining enterprise which will spread out on its own, to the moon or Mars. That's a real program, not pork.

It's why countries came to North America. They didn't come because the land existed, they came because of gold, furs, tobacco, lumber. If they had found barren rock, they would have just returned.

America as "the land of opportunity" used to mean animals and trees...

And gold. Greed drives things. If we found something of value in space, and if someone thought they could make trillions of dollars from it, they would spend billions to go get it.
Alternative Energy Sources

You talk in your book about heavy Helium being a resource.

That section was primarily written by Eric Westling. It's another resource in space that would require fusion technology to be developed further. If this technology became available, then we would need Helium-3.

Is this another example where our country is so politically backward with regards to nuclear technology that we just can't take advantage of this resource yet?

Actually, I'm not sure if there's been enough money in the right places to develop the technology. There are some efforts, but they may not be focused in the right directions. We should be working on this, because we are going to need it.

I read reports of more oil being discovered all the time, yet everyone believes we are going to run out, and so it's very expensive.

There have been various studies done; the ones I believe say that in ten to fifteen years we are going to have real issues.

Saudi Arabia just recently doubled the amount of oil they thought they had in their reserves!

They've been doing that for years, upping their estimates on what they think they have, but they aren't finding new oil.

You don't think the environmental lobby has shut down research and exploitation of oil? It seems we aren't allowed to drill anywhere or build new refineries, and now we wonder why it's so expensive.

Most of the planet has been surveyed, and if there's oil to be found, someone's found it.

We've recently discovered these shale deposits...

Yes, but even beyond the cost of oil, there's the cost of extraction, and if you have to dig up half of Canada to get to it, you'll get to the point where it will take more energy to retrieve it than what you'll get back from it. A colleague of mine spoke with Exxon, and some of their technical people said we have fifteen years.

There are pessimists everywhere. I know a bunch.

But Exxon is an oil company and they should be the optimists. The point in all of this is that we don't know. It could be ten years, it could be fifty. We don't have the information that's needed, and someone needs to be pushing for it.

We will always have doubts until we go into space and realize the resources out there are infinite. There's tons of solar energy and nuclear energy. Your book talks a lot about energy.

With the space elevator, we can create a huge solar array. We'll tap into this energy, and it won't run out. We won't have to deal with oil glitches and stock market glitches and potential environmental glitches.

I've thought about solar arrays, and I've wondered whether E=mc2 proves we should be utilizing nuclear power because it's easier to transport mass than energy.

That's great, too. We can do nuclear power - if you have the fuel and make it safe so it doesn't glitch - then you'll have the energy.
Space And The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism

It's a post-9/11 world, and everyone now realizes the threat of terrorism. If our government said that we should build it on land to protect it, is that possible? If we build more than one, why worry so much about where the first one is?

The reason we picked that position, straight down from California, is because there are no hurricanes, no lightning, no winds, and it's out of the way. Someone flying an airplane will be spotted 400 miles away.

That would require a huge amount of infrastructure. Protecting something in Nevada, we're set up to do.

You still have people driving the roads through there, hanging around outside Area 51, and so there would be the potential for terrorists to strike with shoulder-fired missiles. The U.S. pretty much controls the oceans - we have a heck of a Navy. Any incoming airplane could be easily shot down way before it became a threat. The middle of the ocean is very secure. With land, you have to secure the roads, clear out the access.

It is inaccessible, therefore making it more expensive to get people there.

Initially it would be cargo that's needed, and the cheapest way to move something is on a ship - one ship out of Seattle could contain enough climbers to keep the space elevator going for a year.

It would depend on the infrastructure and how many experts and support staff you have on site to keep it running. What if you needed a million square feet?

We aren't talking about thousands of people. Sea Launch has tens of people.

Tens? What if we needed a thousand people?

If you need a thousand people, then you would need a cruise ship, or more floating platforms, supply ships, etc.

If we are going to build more than one, are they all going to be located in the same place? Asia will get one eventually, if they don't get one first.

You could put a number of them in the same place, but once we start building and understanding them better, we can put them on land as well as in other locations. You could put one in parts of Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia. After we build the first one and have a better understanding of what's going on, we'll have a lot more options with subsequent ones.
Elevator Thrust

MPDs seem like a good idea to power the climbers because they are seventeen times more efficient than chemical rockets.

It's electric propulsion. They've been developed and tested in various labs including at Princeton and some labs in Moscow. They have been developed at pretty much the size we would need, and they can be run for five hundred hours without degradation. The space elevator doesn't require MPDs; chemical rockets could be used but they're less efficient. On the other hand, it takes much longer to get from low earth orbit to high earth orbit with MPDs; - rockets are much faster, you just flip the switch and they head on their way. So there are some tradeoffs with each.

Both need fuel.

With MPDs, we talk about beaming them up.

Err, you would need something which shoots out the back, even if it doesn't combust.

Yes, propellant. They accelerate faster than what you get out of chemical rockets, which is why it's more efficient.
We'll Need to Get India Working On a New Kama Sutra

Your book talks about a hotel in 0.1 g space...

Probably the first efforts in tourism will be a climber with glass windows. You could put forty people on and charge them $20,000 - $30,000. They'll go up a couple of hundred miles, have dinner, spend eight hours, and then come back down. That could be a very good market for the elevator.

Next, you could expand upon the living quarters up in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The solar power arrays and satellites will be up there, so the infrastructure and crews will be needed to maintain them, and so forth. One of the problems will be the radiation belt between here and there, so the transportation would need to be sped up, or the radiation shields improved. If you are sending up tourists they'll want to be comfortable, so you either need more shielding or it has to be faster.

Space tourism will be limited by the long trip to GEO.

The space elevator has been planned around current technology in which speed is mostly a function of power. Once the elevator is built, people will be working on improving its speed, and will improve other areas and shrink the transport time from eight days to one; thus radiation becomes less of an issue. You will have to design the climbing system and the treads such that they won't be damaged at higher speeds. Tourism is viable in the long-term, but these issues have to be dealt with first. It's not the first market, but it will happen.

Two hundred miles up (about where the Space Station orbits) is a lot closer than 14,000 km up, where your book talks about at which, with the speed of your climbers, is seventy hours of travel.

14,000 km up is right in the middle of the radiation belt, so you don't want to go there. You could build a hotel hanging on the ribbon. Alternatively, you could just have a car which is self-contained. Forty people, three trips per day, and $20,000 per person would make it viable. A second elevator would cost one-third as much as the first, so it becomes doable.

You wouldn't build it like the ISS (International Space Station) where people get out and meet up with the hotel?

To do that, you'd need a rocket to catch up, and then use it for coming back down. Then, you'd just have a re-entry probe.

Why not just do the reverse?

A re-entry problem would be easier. There are lots of different options. You wouldn't need to get out of the elevator though. It would take a few hours to get up there, and it would be enjoyable from the moment you left till you got back. The whole time spent is enjoyable without getting off the elevator.
Lunar Elevator?

Okay, so we have the space elevator. To get to the Moon, we'd build a lunar elevator?

Jerome Pearson has been talking about that idea. I'm not a big fan of the lunar elevator because there are a lot of complications and fewer economic reasons. Asteroids are a lot easier to put elevators on. We can do that with current materials if we have an economic reason to do it. The moon is a little more difficult because of its slow rotation. Asteroids and Mars are easier, but what will drive the project is the economic return. It also depends on what the goal is. If all of our activities are on the moon, then that's where we go. If we are going to Mars, then we go there next. If we are mining asteroids, then we will be sending elevators to all the asteroids we can get to.

I'm not sure if we need to be mining asteroids yet...

I don't think it's a near-term opportunity. I think it's something which will happen eventually, when we have a lot of other projects going on in space. The first projects will be solar-powered satellites and telecommunications.

Everyone focuses on nanotechnology as being the only challenge, but really its only the first. President Bush has increased spending by 83% for it since 2001. It seems like we must be on the cusp of something.

There's what's called the National Nanotechnology Initiative. When I was looking into it, the budget was a billion dollars. But when you look closer at it, it is split up between a dozen agencies, and within each agency it's split again into a dozen different areas - much of it ends up as SBIRs and STTRs and turned into $100,000 grants. We looked into it with regards to carbon nanotube composites, and it appeared that about thirty million dollars was going into high-strength materials - and a lot of that was being spent internally in a lot of the agencies, in the end there's only a couple of million dollars out of the billion dollar budget going into something that would be useful to us.

It's pork. It doesn't have focus.

It doesn't have focus, and it's spread out to include everything. You get a little bit of effort in a thousand different places.

You wonder whether the efforts are duplicative...

A lot of the budget is spent on one entity trying to play catch-up with whoever is leading. Instead of funding the leader, they're funding someone else internally to catch up.
Payload Physics

Talk a bit about bootstrapping payloads to a twenty-ton elevator, and what would be next after that. I worry that starting with twenty tons would be a bottleneck, even though it's two orders of magnitude greater than what NASA can do today, given the time it would take to build an elevator.

A two hundred ton elevator will become reasonable and commercially viable once we get the costs to where we believe they are going to be. We chose twenty tons, as this is what we know will be the first viable step. Thirteen tons is a good payload on a 20-ton climber, and will prove to be very valuable. What happens after that - well, we can plan all we want. When the first one starts operating, then there'll be somebody saying, " two hundred tons is great, but we need three hundred tons, and it has to do this, and this, and this..."

But each order of magnitude is a milestone in itself, and so we need to start at the right place.

Yes, but the basic physics don't change, and the operations don't change. To give some perspective, two hundred tons is like the size of a large commercial aircraft. We can build a climber that size, and a ribbon that will hold it. It's all things that can be done. Ramping up to that size is a matter of will; there aren't any physical constraints.
Waiting For Our Overlords To Wake Up

This interview is depressing. We haven't broken ground and it isn't clear if NASA could be helpful.

From the inside, we've got a lot of things going on, even though we haven't started construction. That book of mine came out a couple of years ago; before that, space elevators were the stuff of science fiction. We've gone from science fiction to this idea showing up in a lot of places - various magazines and in real serious discussions in mainstream forums. It's showing up in high-level discussions at NASA and European Space Agencies and other places like that. We also have a lot of efforts which aren't solidified yet, but if if any one of of them comes through, we'll be on a real good track to make this idea happen.

Living in the 21st century, fifteen years just seems too long. It's like saying that it's going to take fifteen years to rebuild the Gulf coast after Katrina.

There are limits on how fast you can do things. But if we got more money, it can go faster. I'm a scientist so it's my nature to be realistic. The project has a couple of years of development and the assumed hurdles with regulatory committees, as well as going out for bids on contracts.

None of that's engineering though. If you killed all the lawyers and bureaucrats, how long would it really take?

When we're finished with the development, we would still have some work on the materials yet to complete. If we really pushed everything, we could get it up and running in five or six years. That's pretty tight. Our estimates are seven or eight years, but if we really pushed it it could happen sooner. It would take a couple of years to build things, and then a couple more to increase the strength of the elevator. But one could use more launches or bigger launches to get a bigger first ribbon to cut back on things a bit. There are things you can do to tighten up the schedule, but I'm trying to be a realist. If you promise something in five years, then five years later you'd better have something. Large infrastructure and power plants take time to get built.

The money will eventually come. With a space elevator, the day you build it and the first elevator you send up, the value of the company will easily become ten times what was put into it, with just the market that's available; and that's assuming you don't do anything intelligent like build the next one at a much lower cost, or develop new commercial applications, etc.

You're basically saying that if we could launch ten times more stuff into space than we do today, we would still max out that capacity...

Once you've got the elevator, you're able to transport lots of stuff up there. The company that operates the space elevator could then put up the telecommunications satellite, and become the telecommunications owner for the whole planet. Then they could put up solar-powered satellites and own the power producing capability for the planet. That's a ridiculous amount of money and power involved. And if they really wanted to go hog-wild they could say "You know what? We are just going to take Mars! We are the only ones who can get there." At some point the implications get crazy. So yes, there will be a pretty big return on it once it gets built.
Software Versus Hard Ware

A lot of space elevator supporters are software geeks. Any thoughts for them?

There are a lot of software challenges involved. The system isn't a whole lot different, but there are new uses being created for robotics and autonomous operations. I think a lot of that is currently being developed for factories. There's more need for robotics, but I think the software requirements will keep up.

You should be worried about it! The Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers nearly died because of software bugs, and the Denver Airport's luggage system failed because of software. I suppose God has provided harder physics problems than software problems in the short-term.

We're always going to have software glitches, therefore we have to plan for them. But the elevator will allow us to send up whatever computers we want. It doesn't have to be a specific little piece of software for a specific piece of hardware, like what was designed for the Mars mission. A space elevator can use software that has been tested by a million people.
The Trillion Dollar Question

I think you should have your Natan Sharansky moment with President Bush...

There's been discussions, and hopefully the twenty books you've sent him will spur them into giving me a call. A lot of this is just getting into the front door. I've briefed all levels of NASA except for the administrator in the past, but I haven't really tried to recently because we've got a lot of activities going on and I don't know where NASA would play a role.

One challenge we face is that if NASA gets involved, it can tie up the technology development. If government funds it, then government owns it - you may lose control of the technology which could be valuable to private enterprises. We have to be careful how we set everything up to avoid burning bridges.

What I think is going to happen is that someone will develop the first elevator. After that, there'll be a rush to build five more. You can run off a list of who will be building it: DoD (Department Of Defense) will want one, a couple of private entities will want one, the Europeans will want one. Those five will be built independently of who builds the first one, whether it's the US, China, private enterprise... Regardless, the next five will be built. After that we lose complete control; they get bigger, they get more of them. We're only worried about building the first one.

This is an enormous industry which needs to develop. I come from the IT industry, and I think of this as something on that order of magnitude.

It is literally a multi-trillion dollar per year industry. There are real markets that you can run the numbers for, and it's well over a trillion - that's just launch revenues. Add on top of that the value of the products that will be launched.

I think this picture summarizes why we shouldn't follow NASA's vision. There are a couple of guys, a cute little space ship, and an American flag...

Or, we can have a city up there. I sent a proposal to NASA which cut the cost of the moon-Mars initiative in half, and what it ended up being was a settlement of 100 people on the moon and Mars with all kinds of infrastructure and supply depots and everything else - the money wasn't being spent on the launches.

It would be great if we could get NASA involved but I don't know where they would fit, and I don't feel obligated to get them to fit. If private enterprise comes up and says here's the money, lets go do it, then we should do it. There's a whole lot more money in the private side of our economy than the public side. So if a project comes up which has a good business case, then private enterprise will get right on it. In terms of resources that NASA could reallocate, it's pretty limited. A lot of their resources are tied up, unless they were to shut down one of their centers. The billion dollars a year they're spending on is all they could scrape together without firing people.

I talked with Michael Griffin many years ago and he's a very interesting individual. I may go talk to him at some point again, and see where things might fit, but currently I've got my hands full with other avenues that look promising. I've been briefing NASA on a regular basis for a couple of years, and not much has come out of it. I've started talking to private industry and things happen a lot more quickly, so naturally I've gone down that route. With NASA, you can fight just to get a $100,000 grant.

Spoken with Arthur C. Clarke lately?

I've sent a few e-mails to him and he's written me a couple of notes. He's very supportive of our ideas. He just wrote a letter to the London Times regarding NASA and space elevators. That's where he mentions that his fifty-year target has dropped to twenty-five years. He spoke at one of our conferences as well, in which he said it would be ten years, so he's changed it a few times. He's been a good supporter. In fact, we have a lot of people who are good supporters. It's amazing how far things have come in the last five years or so...

Re:Site slashdotted, article text here (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799324)

But one could use more launches or bigger launches to get a bigger first ribbon to cut back on things a bit.

My brain highlighted the two boldfaced words above, and I got this horrific image of Bush attending the ribbon-cutting for the space elevator...

I neglected to mention... (-1, Troll)

Keith Curtis (923118) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798011)

I had to fellate the Dr. to get the interview.
I can still smell those flaming red pubes.

quick! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798037)

dude, you put in your actual email address [mailto] !! teh spambots are coming!

Wow... (2, Funny)

jettoki (894493) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798038)

That is probably the most informed discussion about the current state of advanced energy/space technologies that I have ever read. Dr. Edwards seems like a very even-handed, practical, and worldly individual, with the kind of vision we need to truly make progress in coming decades.

Too bad he's is a space elevator wacko. Narf!@#!!
Space shuttle 4-eva!

Re:Wow... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798075)

He lost me when he said the Space Elevator would be easier than rebuilding New Orleans.

"It is similar in size to that, but it's also similar in size to the Boston Big Dig. It's small compared to, say, rebuilding New Orleans in money or effort."

BS, we have no idea how much it would cost in money or effort because it's not been done. None of the technology exists, none of the materials exist, none of the real engineering work has been done.

Re:Wow... (2, Insightful)

jettoki (894493) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798096)

Considering the estimated costs of rebuilding New Orleans, I think his statement is pretty fair. The ISS is a much more tangled, complicated project, and it totals about $100 billion. New Orleans is now being estimated at $200 billion.

So that's really not BS...

Re:Wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798368)

So then, it's similar in size to say, curing cancer or ending world hunger. Yay, let's make a geo-synchronous love-hotel for the ultra rich! Let's get the support of the common people for something that can only be used by big government or big corporations. Space is coooool, man.

Re:Wow... (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798403)

So then, it's similar in size to say, curing cancer or ending world hunger.

How can you estimate that curing cancer could be done for $200 billion, much less "ending world hunger"?

Re:Wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13799276)

Well in that case screw cancer and world hunger both: let's go put a McDonald's in space.

Re:Wow... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798420)

So, the Space Elevator which has none of the materials in existence at this time and none of the engineering done is LESS tangled and complicated that the ISS?

Thats BS, a 144,000 km long construct of materals that don't exist right now can not cost less than two ISS. []

Re:Wow... (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799418)

This is OT to the space elevator, but wouldn't it make sense to invest in "hurricane disrupters?"

The (extremely low-tech) idea I have is a giant bank of fans, attached to batteries. Giant, that is, like 1 mile cubed. It would be best made with nanomaterials, but could conceivably be started immediately with current tech and made stronger/lighter/more efficient later.

We'd move this construct into the path of hurricanes, and it would reduce the speed of the winds by converting the wind energy into rotational energy for the fans, and then use those to turn alternators to generate electricity.

So, not only would we avoid $200 billion cleanup jobs, we'd also be generating additional electricity for the nation!

And, somewhat similar to the space elevator, after creating the first one, the second will be quite less expensive and faster to produce. And the more we have on our southeastern coastline, we'd be producing even more electricity, and further reducing potential damage to our cities.

If we're going to have to spend $200 billion on cleaup jobs every 15 years or so, then spending (rough guess) $10 billion today to develop (or at least investigate) this idea might be worth it. (Some whackos have been calling in to Howard Stern, stating that the Russians have "hurricane production science" and are using it against the USA. Not very believable given the current political climate, but possible? Developing this then would fall under DoD, since it would be defending the country against foreign agression.)

Re:Wow... (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800065)

But it is. The sad fact is that no matter how much the engineer climbers and anchor platforms, suitable cable materials simply don't exist. They're not even close to existing. It's not just an engineering problem - current evidence suggests that it may well even be *impossible* to exist.

The strongest measured strength of individual single-walled nanotubes is just over 60GPa; most were much weaker. The longest individual SWNT is measured in centimeters, and was likely far weaker than the short-measured tubes.

But wait, you can't just use individual tubes! You need bundles, and you lose strength with bundles. The strongest bundles are not even 20 GPa, because not only are they subject to the weaknesses of individual tubes, but they're only held together with pi bonding and vdw.

It gets worse, though: you need industrial-producable indefinite-length fibers. The best of these aren't much over 10 GPa - and these are still in the lab.

Space elevator's like Dr. Edwards' call for >100, and anticipate >120. We're nowhere close, and won't be for decades, if ever, even with intensive research. Pretending that this is a solution for a rocket replacement present-day is just plain silly.

This interview was so inane. They didn't discuss any serious technical particulars, and only talked in vague generalizations, mostly simply bashing other people (again, without specifics, just on uninformmed Universal Bashing Points(TM)). I wish I could have the minutes of my life that I spent reading this tripe back. Perhaps if we did an "Ask Slashdot", it'd be more intelligent.

Re:Wow... (1)

MidnightBrewer (97195) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799580)

Actually, wrong on all three counts. The challenge now is coming up with feasible fabrication processes to produce the carbon-nanotube-based cable in sufficient lengths to work.

Re:Wow... (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798197)

Dr. Edwards is clearly just a karma whore.

What's the deal with Cornnuts? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798049)

Is it a Corn, or is it a Nut?

It's a corn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798218)

Made from a Cuzco corn hybrid.


Re:It's a corn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798232)


Why in the WORLD (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798078)

... would anyone in Seattle, of all places, drink Starbucks? Starbucks is what I drink in the Kansas City airport, for Peet's (sic) sake.

All the good local shops around here, and you rocket-scientist types go to Starbucks? How un-hipsterishistic.

Re:Why in the WORLD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798249)

Right on. And then pay 4$(!!!) for coffee? Hello?

How about doing a question and answer session ..? (1, Interesting)

pickyouupatnine (901260) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798102)

Sometime ago I heard that to pull off the space elevator .. the material cost would be massive that we didnt have enough steel cable to do such a thing and only experimental substances (like spiderweb yarn) would meet the challenge of providing that much material.

Is this true? What sort of materials will the Space Elevator make use of?

How about doing a QandA with Slashdot user questions? :D


Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798144)

So spider-ass juice is our only hope of space travel? LOOOOOOOOOL

i efeel sory for the spidders in the year 504309, they spin webs like whipped prison bitches :D

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798163)

You must be new here, the space elevator is often discussed. Take a look at this [] article, for information.
The material used is carbon nanotubes, not steel.
Wikipedia is here to answer your questions.

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (4, Informative)

The Snowman (116231) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798196)

Sometime ago I heard that to pull off the space elevator .. the material cost would be massive that we didnt have enough steel cable to do such a thing and only experimental substances (like spiderweb yarn) would meet the challenge of providing that much material.

Steel is extremely dense. The sheer quantity of steel needed would mean the elevator would collapse under its own weight. That is why nobody plans on using steel cables. Instead, carbon nanotubes are the way to go. Essentially, these are thin strands of carbon engineered in such a way that they are light and strong. A strand the thickness of a human hair has the strength of a steel girder, but weighs around 0.00001% as much. Nanotechnology means more than just making things small, it also means building life-size objects but engineering them at the molecular level to have special properties, such as high strength or low density.

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

planetoid (719535) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798210)

A strand the thickness of a human hair has the strength of a steel girder, but weighs around 0.00001% as much.

Any particular reason they don't they make buildings out of these carbon strands instead of with steel girders?

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798321)


Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

bleak sky (144328) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798323)

Any particular reason they don't they make buildings out of these carbon strands instead of with steel girders?

Unfortunately, we can't yet make strands longer than a few centimeters...

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (4, Funny)

wfberg (24378) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798338)

A strand the thickness of a human hair has the strength of a steel girder, but weighs around 0.00001% as much.

Any particular reason they don't they make buildings out of these carbon strands instead of with steel girders?

The little piglet that tried found that the unusually low weight made his house much too easy to blow over by the big bad wolf. ;-)

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (4, Interesting)

Winkhorst (743546) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798450)

Because they are just now building the first plant to manufacture carbon nanotubes in Milville, New Jersey, you dolt.

I read this website and I realise that beyond the limited realm of computers the folk who hang out here are, with a few exceptions, generally as ignorant as the average man in the street. The idea that someone with a computer and access to the internet would not understand that carbon nanotubes are cutting edge technology and not something available off the shelf at your local Ace Hardware is mind boggling. This cuts to the very heart of the question of worldview. I have to wonder what the worldview is of someone who doesn't understand where his civilization stands technologically--what is possible and what is not yet possible.

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

mtec (572168) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798566)

That's it - that's just great. You smacked the beehive with a stick... and there's nothing worse that a bee that drinks Bawls.

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

smallpaul (65919) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800038)

I read this website and I realise that beyond the limited realm of computers the folk who hang out here are, with a few exceptions, generally as ignorant as the average man in the street.

I have two responses. The first is to deny: the average man on the street does not even know what a space elevator is, or whether NASA has sent rovers to multiple planets or just one. You responded to a single misinformed (low-rated) post and ignored the others that were better informed.

I have to wonder what the worldview is of someone who doesn't understand where his civilization stands technologically--what is possible and what is not yet possible.

The second is to agree: nobody knows on any given day precisely what is technologically possible and what is not. I didn't know that a carbon nanotube factory is being built. You probably have gaps in your knowledge, whether they relate to the current state of biology, astrophysics, art or international law. If you think that a person should be too embarassed about their gaps in knowledge to ask a question then you have a very harsh "worldview" -- to use your pet term.

The idea that someone with a computer and access to the internet would not understand that carbon nanotubes are cutting edge technology and not something available off the shelf at your local Ace Hardware is mind boggling.

I happen to read a lot of science media so I know that carbon nanotubes are in the future. 95% of people in the world have other interests and I personally have no problem with that. I would much rather that they pay attention to politics or world affairs rather than the question of whether a particular technology is available THIS YEAR, or NEXT YEAR or FIVE YEARS FROM NOW. It's very short-sighted to think that those kinds of timelines are important in the big picture. If we were talking about the millions of people around the world who think that Iraq or Israel blew up the WTC then I'd share your concern. But we're talking about the current state of manufcuture of a currently obscure material. Millions of people have an inquisitive and informed "worldview" without knowing anything about carbon nanotubes.

To conclude, I would rather be an ignorant science-o-phobe than a pompous, elitist dickhead.

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

justins (80659) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800268)

The idea that someone with a computer and access to the internet would not understand that carbon nanotubes are cutting edge technology and not something available off the shelf at your local Ace Hardware is mind boggling.

I want to be the one to build the first strawman out of carbon nanotubes.

Tubeman? Nanostraw... guy...??? I'm open to suggestions for the name.

Types of "strength" (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799089)

Aside from the obvious problems with the fact that steel is a lot easier to produce and less expensive than carbon nanotubes right now, that "strength" he's talking about is tensile strength, not compressive or shear strength. (Ref.: here [] .) Just because something has a large amount of tensile strength doesn't mean you'd want to build a building out of it.

In fact I'm fairly certain that there are types of plastic (nylon maybe) which when woven together have more tensile strength per unit mass and volume than a comparable amount of steel, and I'm looking out my window right now and don't see any plastic-framed skyscraper buildings.

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

ace1317 (905398) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798785)

I'd like to point out that current CNT preps yield very polydisperse samples both in terms of diameter and length. And also that getting tubes longer than 1-2 microns is difficult. Using them for a space elevator may happen one day, but we're nowhere close. Also- currently we're not engineering things at a molecular level. or rather we are, but not on a molecule by molecule basis that some people tend to assume we're working with. For instance, we coat with a single monolayer of molecules, but over a larger area. Nanotech has a long way to go before it turns into the future we see in The Diamond Age (Neil Stephenson)

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

The Snowman (116231) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799327)

Also- currently we're not engineering things at a molecular level. or rather we are, but not on a molecule by molecule basis that some people tend to assume we're working with.

This is what I meant. Rather than engineering steel by "measure this much iron, this much carbon, etc and smelt it all in a big pot," nanotech is about taking elements and getting them to do what we want on a smaller scale -- rather than melting stuff in a pot, use various techniques to get molecules to align certain ways, create crystals or buckeyballs or whatever the latest thing is. Like you mentioned, coating with a layer of molecules -- obviously we aren't placing them one at a time, but stacking the deck as far as what molecules used and exploiting their properties so they only layer one or two deep. That may not be nanotech, but it is a similar idea.

Re:How about doing a question and answer session . (1)

ace1317 (905398) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799388)

Well, I think nanotech can be used to describe any engineering process which has some controllable dimension less than 100 nm. The idea that my initial response was trying to convey was that we can do things on the nanoscale, but we still use billions upon billions of molecules to do it. No one has figured out a way to get around the "sticky fingers" problem to control single moleculesv(for more info, do a goodle serach to read Smalley and Drexlers debate on molecular assemblers), and personally I dont think they will in my lifetime. And putting monolayers on a surface is largely wet chemistry from many years ago; it's just recently that we have the tools to "read" our results with enough precision to distinguish molecular precision.

Too bad there is no bulk material with those props (1)

Doug Coulter (754128) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799659)

Lots of folks have gone off about using nanotubes and such to replace the fiber in "fiberglass" and all tests of bulk material properties (so far) that I'm aware of have shown essentially no net gain. So far, it seems, you can't make the nanotubes and such long enough to effectively be gripped by the binding component to do any good whatsoever. Or cross link the molecules well enough to do away with the need for the binder's strength. Else we'd already have things like fighter planes and cars made of them. So far, no good. This is not to say it won't happen. And yes, steel is neat stuff, but way out of it's league on this job.

Didja get around to the subject (2, Insightful)

lheal (86013) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798105)

... of harmonics? That is, how on earth (or wherever) are they going to keep a giant 20,000-mile long (minimum) string from vibrating, tearing itself away from its moorings and giving passengers a severe case of lawnmower shakes? Awful hard to do the random weighting thing they do with high-tension power lines when you want a robot to climb it (fast). ... or terrorist attacks? Yah, I know that's passe and overrated as a topic, and that it applies to any transport medium. But it still ought to be dealt with at the design stage rather than afterwards, I think. ... or birds? Doesn't anyone care about birds? :-).

Re:Didja get around to the subject (1)

Macka (9388) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798245)

Ditto. Wind speeds change dramatically as you go higher. The jet stream for example can vary between 60-200mph depending on the location and time of year. How do they plan to cope with this and stop the top of the elevator from whipping around up there with all the forces being exerted on the cables below.

I'm extremely skeptical that this can be done safely.

Re:Didja get around to the subject (1)

rbarreira (836272) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798445)

A quick google search would have given you this [] (read the message and the quoted part too).

Re:Didja get around to the subject (1)

Mac Degger (576336) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798596)

Sounds like you just need a few systems and signals specialists there. This kind of thing is exactly what Fourier analysis was made for.

I see no reason to worry undully and think this can be done quite safely, if they leave room for adjustments when the thing is up (kinda like what they do to bridges when they turn out to have missed a harmonic frequency...they just add/change some shockabsorbers to cancel out the vibes).

Mind you, I'm not saying this is a trivial problem...just that it's a quite solvable one.

Re:Didja get around to the subject (1, Funny)

HawkingMattress (588824) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798283)

Never thought of this but it's kinda cool...
With several elevators we could make a huge planetoid banjo and play the song from the mission on it, which would probably attract aliens from all around the galaxy and transform the solar system in a huge fiesta zone ! Or maybe not, but the banjo part would be fun anyway.

Re:Didja get around to the subject (1)

ZachPruckowski (918562) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798493)

Sound doesn't travel in space.

And they'd get lawsuits for keeping people up at night. It's always 3am somewhere, and that'd wake the whole planet up.

Re:Didja get around to the subject (1)

frakir (760204) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798674)

Since there is many basic questions and confusion what stage is space elevator program in I recommend checking out this (warning, pdf): []

grammar police (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798147)

"noted expert on the Space Elevator pays $4 for coffee at the same Starbucks that I do"

ya know, that'd be the day when it happens.

Re:grammar police (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13799707)

Heh, no kidding. By the time the Space Elevator AI can grok that "tall" means "small" at Starbucks, a latte will cost at least $12.50, and that's assuming dollars won't have been phased out for Yuan by then.

One missing question (3, Insightful)

Libor Vanek (248963) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798153)

I just don't see one, the most fundamental, question in all interview. I don't worry about climber construction or powering them (it's after all "just" engineering - even if powering means, that you'll put very very small reactor on the climber and restrict it going only from 1000 Km and higher and for 0-1000 you'll use chemical rockets) - BUT (!) AFAIK the material is problem! I've read somewhere, that the strongest nanotube ever produced is still only 50% of necessary strength - and THAT'S a LONG way to go! (you can't use just 100% necessary strength - you need more for safety - something like 130-150%!)

Re:One missing question (1)

jeremymiles (725644) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798411)

So hang on, you need more than is necessary? Or is it necessary to have more than you need?

Re:One missing question (2, Informative)

Mac Degger (576336) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798618)

No; nanowire is strong enough. The real problem is length; nanowires are just a couple of micrometers-millimeters long, and we have no idea how to make them longer.
As soon as that is sorted, we need to think up a method of producing that length, and how do we produce it and make it go up to space (do we make it in orbit and just string it down as we make it? Do we shoot a rocket up with nanowire attached?).

But nanowire in and of itself has all the mechanical properties needed to build a space elevator.

Anybody that pays $4 for coffee... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798230)

is a fucking moron. And anybody that buys from Starbucks is an asshat.

Re:Anybody that pays $4 for coffee... (0, Troll)

Dominic Burns (673810) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798266)

Seriously dude, it's good for the economy.

We need idiots at the top to keep us idiots down at the bottom.

Recorded? (1)

FlynnMP3 (33498) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798240)

Guess my head is the wrong place again. I just finished up some DVD authoring. I was kind of looking forward to an audio recording. Interesting interview regardless. :)

I never understood... (2, Insightful)

Bulmakau (918237) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798265)

I never understood why man is obsessed with going to space... I bet it has nice view of our globe ;) but I understand its the most dangerous place on earth (hmm... actually off earth), right after port morsbey ;)

The concept of having a big "rope" in the middle of the sea, reaching out to space, with elavator/s connected to it, exposed to attacks from Al Quaida, Bush (if Al Quaida ever uses it), The sea, the wind, commets, space debree, mir stations, dumb people pressing the wrong buttons, harrasing the elavator or crowding it (especially with the overweight problem in the world) and whatnot.. it will NEVER work (Just like trying to make medicine of germs). Mark my words ;)

Re:I never understood... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798297)

The concept of having a big "rope" in the middle of the sea, reaching out to space, with elavator/s connected to it ... will NEVER work (Just like trying to make medicine of germs)

Really. []

There goes your theory.

Re:I never understood... (1)

D3m3rz3l (914486) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798541)

Uh huh. I bet you would have said the same thing about aircraft in 1900. And desktop computers in the 1950s. And about putting a man on the moon. Maybe you should become Amish or something.

Re:I never understood... (0)

RicktheBrick (588466) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798738)

I for one would not want a space elevator unless every one of them had international inspectors monitoring everything that is being put there. If we do not put very strict controls on what is being put into orbit it will mean that vast amounts of weapons will be put there and we will be drastically worse off than we were before its creation.

What use are controls? (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798882)

If we do not put very strict controls on what is being put into orbit it will mean that vast amounts of weapons will be put there

So, your point is?... Do we need to put very strict controls *everywhere*? Or do you think weapons in space would be significantly more dangerous than weapons anywhere else? Why would space be a more attractive place to put vast amounts of weapons than, let's say, Nebraska, or in submarines under the sea, or in whatever other places there are vast amounts of weapons today?

Re:What use are controls? (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799056)


I always get a laugh at the people who are all afraid of "space weapons," as if there aren't a whole lot of weapons sitting underground in North Dakota right now that are more than capable of annihilating you where you sit.

The only real purpose of putting weapons in space would be to shoot other things which are in space. It's already pretty easy (for the U.S. and probably a bunch of other industrialized countries) to put a missile anywhere they want on the face of the Earth; putting them in space isn't going to change that situation any.

Re:What use are controls? (1)

Leghkster (603558) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800085)

I for one would not want a Nebraska unless... Oh, never mind.

for a smart guy, not too bright... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798325)

I recently discovered that Dr. Bradley C. Edwards, noted expert on the Space Elevator pays $4 for coffee at the same Starbucks that I do

You can buy good coffee for a lot less than that; $4 a coffee and a similar amount for a muffin adds up rapidly.

Was this a serious interview? (1)

darthium (834988) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798331)

I wonder if it's just a parody...or if it's been taken seriously in Slashdot... I rarely come over here, but, AFAIK, there are very interesting discussions here, and very bright people...that's why it surprised me to see this interview treated as it it was a serious proposition (even in the responses exposing concerns)... The most basic common sense says that such 'Space Elevator' can't be a serious project, is there something I'm missing?

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798391)

The most basic common sense says that such 'Space Elevator' can't be a serious project, is there something I'm missing?

So Arthur C. Clarke lacks common sense?

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

darthium (834988) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798424)

AFAIK, Arthur C Clark made obvious that he wrote Science Fiction.

In this case, the discussion about the Space Elevator is as if it was a very feasible way to go into the space, when minimal common sense says that, with our current level of scientific development, such 'Space Elevator' would be hardly a practical solution (can you imagine such estructure? how much would it cost, how easy it could be damaged severely by terrorists, meteors, etc..)?

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798523)

"Minimal common sense" tells me that it's quite likely to be at least as reliable as our current space shuttle fleet.

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

chaidawg (170956) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798546)

True, Arthur C. Clarke does write science fiction, but true science fiction (Note lack of fantasy elements) just takes realistic science and changes one principle or posits a truth and runs with it. A.C.C. has been a master at it, and the truth he posit in The Fountains of Paradise was of a cable strong enough to bear the weight of the elevetor itself. We have discovered a material with such a (possible) strength in carbon nanotubes (buckytubes). /The Fountains of Paradise was the book he used the space elevator in

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

Mac Degger (576336) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798636) soon as we can create nanowires of any length, the space elevator is a very practical solution. And don't knock AC Clarke...he invented the communications satelite (which might have sounded impracticle to you too, but which has proved to be quite realistic).

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

fader (107759) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798752)

AFAIK, Arthur C Clark made obvious that he wrote Science Fiction. He also proposed/invented the communications satellite. Many people thought he should have stuck to writing fiction then, too, instead of passing off his crazy ideas as possible. Notably, when asked when the space elevator would be built, he replied "About 50 years after everyone has stopped laughing." (Though I've read he's later revised it down to 25.) Some of us have stopped laughing.

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

rebelcool (247749) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800304)

Compared to the horribly complicated and unreliable liquid fueled rockets in use now, its a pretty good idea. rockets require billions of dollars in manufacturing and maintenance infrastructure are yet are still pretty shaky platforms.

the key is to build a plant to build the material, probably would cost a billion or two (similar to plants that manufacture LCD panels...there are actually very few in the world)

Once you've got that, its a matter of engineering robots to put it together. Relatively simple, compared to the engineering titantic that is the space shuttle.

as for terrorists... if your material is strong enough to go that far into space, no terrorist will do anything but scratch it. a plane flying into it would destroy the plane, but merely strum the cable. even if the material somehow does get broken, because of its balanced nature, it doesnt fall or fly away - a repair robot patches the break in under a day.

Re:Was this a serious interview? (3, Informative)

chaidawg (170956) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798408)

Yes, it was a serious interview. The idea of a space elevator has been bandied around in scientific and science fields for a number of years, but the strength of the cable needed to hold it up was always a sticking factor. With the discovery of Carbon-60 (Buckyballs and Buckytubes) the strength factor is theoretically within reach.
The basic idea is an elevator with its center of gravity at geosyncronous orbit, making the elevator stay in one spot over the earth. It would allow for much larger space lift capacities and much lower costs per pound.
Read more at:
Wikipedia []
The Space Elevator Reference []
Liftport Group, a consortium of companies working on space elevator tech []
Also, for a good sci-fi treatment of space elevators, read Kim Stanley-Robinson's Red-Gree-Blue Mars Trilogy

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798971)

Common sense also forbids most of quantum mechanics, and relativity. A space elevator is actually quite feasible, but most people do have some very wrong ideas about how it might be built. It's basically just a thin ribbon of carbon so long that the center of mass is in geostationary orbit. Tension holds it up. Mechanically, it really couldn't get any simpler. You have a robot crawl up and down the ribbon.

No, we don't have large scale carnon nanomanufacturing technology in place. It's an engineering issue, not a fundamental problem of impossibility.

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

Mr. Foogle (253554) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799154)

Depends on what you mean by 'serious project'. Blueprints drawn up, budget allocated and space booked on a series of Delta IV flights? No.

But what is going on are a series of test and projects to refine the enabling technology, people studying different aspects of the problem and so on.

Re:Was this a serious interview? (1)

Wolfbone (668810) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799251)

I got the distinct impression of some parody or crankishness too, but not from anything said by the interviewee or about space elevators ;-) If you think space elevators sound outlandish, take a look at this: []

...which theoretical but apparently sound science provided the background to an amusing discussion I had with the UKPO a while back concerning this little gem: 47912&F=0&QPN=GB2347912 []

Publication No GB2347912 dated 20.09.2000

Examination requested 07.11.2000

Grant of Patent (Notification under Section 18(4)) 07.10.2003
        Publication of notice in the Patents and Designs Journal (Section 25(1))
        Title of Granted Patent ANTI GRAVITY CRAFT

(Sadly, the patent actually granted claims very much less than its title or the EPO application documents would suggest ;-)

Gravity, light speed no barriers to patent madness (1)

D4C5CE (578304) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799625)

background to an amusing discussion I had with the UKPO a while back concerning this little gem []
Is this discussion available online for the entertainment of all intelligent life in space? ;-)

Faith in the patent system on this planet should quickly fade in anyone staring in disbelief at the word "GRANTED" rubberstamped across a document with lines like:

a gravity wave is bent around the craft enabling the craft to float. Reference is also made to the craft being capable of travelling at many times faster than the speed of light.
Spelling obviously isn't the only problem in this thing [] :

This specification is for a completely new system of travel to build a craft that can carry any payload to be able to overcome the problem envisaged by Einstein and is [sic] encountered by all rocket propelled craft that is of it's [sic!] mass increasing with speed so that all these craft are limited in there [sic(k)?!] speed to below the speed of light.

(...) is moor [ahem] than suitable as a cheep [OMG] method of launching space satellites with a great reduction of pollution.

Beam me out of this esp@cenet, Scotty!

Re:Gravity, light speed no barriers to patent madn (1)

Wolfbone (668810) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800150)

Is this discussion available online for the entertainment of all intelligent life in space?

Sadly not. It began on a mailing list but I just checked and the list archive is private. Maybe one day I'll get whatever permissions are necessary and put together a web page. I first found a reference to the patent in the BBC science message boards where James Avey is one of the regular errm... eccentrics and my connection to the UKPO was with regard to a completely unrelated subject, but when I saw the Avey patent I couldn't resist bringing it up. Most of the fun was in the gradual extraction of the 'terribly disappointing' information that the patent had been whittled down to nothing more than a claim to a shiny aluminium sphere during its examination. Despite our differences I've found the UKPO man concerned and his colleagues deserve respect for their competence and rigour and I knew all along there was very little chance they'd granted the patent as it appears in the EPO database. My dreams of interstellar exploration were indeed finally shattered:

> The claims were amended substantially. I don't have it in front of me now,
> but if my memory is correct, the claims as granted only relate to a novel
> shape and construction of craft - ie. with no suggestion of bending gravity,
> or warp technology etc..

Damn. I had hoped to be flying my own ship "round the moons of Nibia and round
the Antares maelstrom" before too long. Now we're back to square one and I
probably won't even get to watch the manned Mars landings on the telly before
I die ;-)

Have a good weekend.

So it turned out that James Avey wasn't the real Zephron Cochran after all ;-)

$4 for coffee? (0, Offtopic)

bioglaze (767105) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798538)

How can coffee cost $4? Sorry, i'm from Europe, so i really don't understand.

Sex with an cock (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13798551)

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Rocket... er, Elevator Scientist, Huh? (1)

dwm (151474) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798806)

He can't be all that smart if he pays $4 for a cup of coffee...

Re:Rocket... er, Elevator Scientist, Huh? (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 8 years ago | (#13798961)

I'm sorry, but I just can't take the guy that seriously. After all, the natives here (Seattle) don't really drink Starbucks, it's actually just for the rubes. Real Seattleites drink Cafe Vita, Cafe d'Arte or Torrefazione.

Starbucks coffee - it's really far too burnt for our refined palates.....

Did anybody else read that as... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13799246)'s doable as long as the US government doesn't get involved.

props on one thing (0, Troll)

justins (80659) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799385)

Congrats on finding and interviewing the only science PhD in the country who doesn't think Bush is a fucking idiot.

Build a frickin' bridge... (2, Insightful)

Goonie (8651) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799386)

As innumerable slashdotters have said before, when Bradley Edwards can build a bridge as long as this one [] out of nanotubes of the requisite tensile strength, then I'll take the space elevator seriously. Until then, it's science fiction and NASA's quite correct to plan its Moon-Mars program out of technology that actually exists.

Re:Build a frickin' bridge... (1)

Fmuctohekerr (841734) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799574)

Innumerable slashdotters should learn the difference between tensile and compressive stress. Oh, wait, here. [] []

Re:Build a frickin' bridge... (1)

Goonie (8651) | more than 8 years ago | (#13800259)

Yes, smartass, I do remember my high school physics. I reckon with our modern engineering genius we might be able to design a bridge to take advantage of a material with enormous tensile strength but mediocre compressive strength. Like, say,">this well-known example [] .

Arthur C. Clarke on **AA versus Future of Mankind (1)

D4C5CE (578304) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799390)

From Arthur C. Clarke's recent contribution on Space Elevators to the The Times [] :
If this ever happens, the most expensive component of travel around the solar system would be for life support -- and inflight movies.
A true visionary, he seems to have realised that the greatest threat to the survival of the human race here on earth and in space could be DRM under the DMCA&friends...

While we're at it, back in Forbidden Planet (1956) [] , didn't they already talk about civilisations wiped out by "the monster from the id"? Also 50 years ahead of their time, truly +5 Foresightful, was that id [] as in RF-ID, by any chance?

Will you ask him to take followup questions? (2, Insightful)

ankhank (756164) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799818)

1) What does he know that he can tell usabout electrical potential differences along the cable, both crossing Earth's magnetic field lines and between upper atmosphere and ground? I think yet another short tether test is anticipated soon by satellite, I recall the first one failed. I know quite a few methods are used to trigger lightning now, from rocket-carried wires to lasers ionizing a column of air.

2) Where can we invest?

3) Wouldn't a branching structure like a suspension bridge -- several orbital counterweights somewhat separated, crosslinked, and several sea level contact points -- be safer than a single cable, spread out to protect against the random meteor or space debris impact, lightning strike, aircraft strike, or structural flaw?

4) When I lived in Seattle in the early '70s, before Starbucks, there were good coffee houses all over the place. Does anyone besides Starbucks sell coffee in his neighborhood now?

4$ for what? (1)

MarcoPon (689115) | more than 8 years ago | (#13799907)

4$, and I probably won't even be able to call that "coffe"; warm, black water may be more appropriate. Crazy stuff... Bye!
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