Admittedly, at least for now, the idea of a beanstalk-like space elevator connecting Earth and space is a stretch.
But next month’s X Prize Cup will host the Space Elevator Games, an unprecedented challenge for today’s engineers looking at ways to alter the future of access to space.
Teams from around the country will gather October 20-21 in Las Cruces, New Mexico to compete for $400,000 in prize money as part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges—the space agency’s program of prize contests to stimulate innovation and competition in solar system exploration.
No matter how you look at it—from the top down or bottom up—building a full-scale space elevator is an uphill battle. But at least physics is in your favor.
The concept is a system utilizing an ultra-strong ribbon that extends from the surface of the Earth to a point beyond geosynchronous orbit. The ribbon is held in place by a counterweight in orbit. As the Earth rotates, the ribbon is held taut. Vehicles would climb the ribbon powered by a beam of energy projected from the surface of the Earth. [See video animation here.]
Visionaries like science fact/fiction writer, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, are space elevator advocates.
Still, wordsmithing the technology is a far cry from hammering it out for real, and there are those who believe the innovations and breakthroughs needed, like nanotubes, might not work.
What an awesome concept! This would be a major investment, but would save so much fuel and energy in the long run that it would be a bargain for whoever builds it. We just need to make sure we keep such a major project out of any one entity's possession... it needs to be a world collective project.
On the other hand, just read Red Mars to see what kind of catastrophe the sabotage of a Space Elevator would be.