Our Place in Space: An Elevator to Space

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, E is for…

AN ELEVATOR TO SPACE

It takes a lot of fuel to get to space.  We’ve talked about this before, and we’re going to talk about it again (and again and again).  In order for the human race to take our rightful place in space, we’re going to have to dream up some clever and crafty ways to reduce the fuel costs of space travel.  One idea—an idea so crazy it might work—would be to build an elevator to space.

So how would we build a space elevator?  Here’s one method: the first step would be to place a space station in geostationary orbit.  Next, our space station would lower a cable all the way down to Earth’s surface.  For the purposes of gravitational stability, the space station would also have to extend a second cable straight out into space, to serve as a counterweight to the weight of the first cable.

Once both cables are fully extended, an elevator carriage could be attached to the cable here on the ground.  Then just press a button, and the elevator takes you to space!

This whole space elevator system would still require an enormous amount of energy.  Also, a ride on the space elevator would take a really long time.  Some sources I’ve looked at say reaching the “top floor” would take several days; others say it would be more like several weeks.  And safety concerns should not be overlooked, because if that elevator cable ever broke, it could become a big problem all around the world (or at least all the way around Earth’s equator, if you catch my meaning).

Still, compared to launching rockets, this would be a far more cost effective and fuel efficient way to transport people and materials from the ground up into space.  As for the safety concerns, we just have to be sure we make that cable out of some really, really, really, really, really, really, really strong material, to ensure that it never breaks!  One problem: no such material is known to exist yet.  Carbon nanotubes and other experimental nano-materials might be strong enough, or they might fall a bit short of being strong enough.  It’s hard to say at this point.

So this is definitely not a thing we can build right now, but maybe someday in the distant future, going space will be as easy as riding an elevator.  I just hope they come up with better elevator music by then.

Want to Learn More?

I’m going to recommend this short video from Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) on space elevators.

I’m also going to recommend this slightly longer and slightly more technical video from Real Engineering.

16 thoughts on “Our Place in Space: An Elevator to Space

  1. OOOOOO
    Just when I thought your post’s couldn’t be anymore interesting!!!!

    I would definitely love to see this happen.. maybe in the distant future! How could would it be??
    Also definitely agree, If we can’t pick our own elevator music.. I don’t think I would be able to withstand that music for days or even weeks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I seem to remember talking to David (@breakerofthings) about this to ask about the viability. If I recall correctly, it was after I’d read Red Mars (which he kindly lent me) and was where I first came upon this notion. such an exciting concept, although as someone who doesn’t like closed in elevators, I may have issues with travelling in one for days or weeks!

    Debs visiting this year from
    Making Yourself Relationship Ready

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like David would be able to answer that question better than I would. He’s got a materials science background, as I recall, and this is really a materials science problem. If we can find or invent a material strong enough for the cable, we can totally do this. And if we can’t find or invent such a material, we totally cannot do this (and shouldn’t try).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ve remembered David’s background correctly 🙂 I am fortunate being able to ask him questions of that nature. Himself is an exceptional all-rounder, but in this area, specialist knowledge is king.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A broken cable whipping around the Earth! Hmm, would the cable and top “level” terminal all be ejected out into space? Then only the portion connected to the ground is a worry. How about building it from nanobots that release their holds on each other if there is a break… then float off into the atmosphere. Sure, no such thing… but “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”… scifi gets away with a lot thanks to Arthur C Clarke

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a beautiful thought! Yes, good companions do make long journeys better. Being stuck in an elevator for several days or weeks could also be a chance to make new friends.

      Like

  4. Just about every time a space elevator shows up in science fiction, sooner or later it’s going to come crashing down, usually due to war or terrorists. Seems like an issue anyone making a proposal to a funding committee will need to have an answer for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question. I’m not really sure. Whenever I see “blue prints” for a space elevator, there’s usually something connected to the other end, like a little docking port or a mini spacestation or something. It makes sense to put something there, but I don’t if that’s strictly necessary, from a gravitational stability point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

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