Travel in a space elevator

Print More

There are some people on the earth who actually believe that NASA never sent men to the moon, but made up the story out of whole cloth. Their imaginations must be as free-wheeling as those of the brilliant scientists and engineers who in fact, as most Americans know, did put men on the moon.

I’m unfailingly impressed by the power of some human minds to ferret out basic principles of physics, and by using advanced math, turn wild dreams into reality. What the heck, haven’t I lived enough decades to believe six impossible things before breakfast, like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland?

That brilliant writer of science fiction Arthur C. Clarke, back in 1978, wrote these words: “If the laws of celestial mechanics make it possible for an object to stay fixed in the sky, might it not be possible to lower a cable down to the surface and so establish an elevator system linking earth to space?”

Certainly, Mr. Clarke. The current plan is the reverse, though: start on the ocean and head for the sky. Ron Cowen describes, in a recent Science News, the possibility of making a space elevator you’d ride to a platform 100,000 kilometers (that’s 62,000 miles) up in space. Presumably in a space suit, you remain for a week on a platform supported by a slim ribbon of wrapped carbon nanotubes, admiring the brilliance of the myriad stars against the pure black of space.

No costly rockets are needed to deploy that ribbon; it is powered by the laser that first raised the platform, then lifted payloads and people upward. Such a structure would hugely reduce current costs of space travel. The article further says, “The rotational energy of the platform’s orbit could be used to fling a vehicle to the moon, or Mars, or even further.” Might as well do all we can while we’re up there, right?

Physicist Bradley C. Edwards of Eureka Scientific in Berkeley, California, says this could be a reality in 15 years. The secret lies in those nanotubes composed of carbon atoms arranged in long molecules to form something resembling microscopic chicken wire. A carbon nanotube string narrower than a pencil can support a weight equal to twenty full-size automobiles. The linked nano-tubes have to be incredibly strong: earth’s gravity will be pulling the ribbon down while the platform is yanking it up.

There’s much work to do to bring this madness to fruition. But knowing that in fact we did put men on the moon, I don’t doubt this ladder-to-the-sky dream could be realized. Physicists have proven they can perform what seem miracles to us laymen.

This is Ruth Page, visiting a dreams-can-be-reality world with you at a time when we need dreams in what is sometimes a nightmare world.

Comments are closed.