Space Elevator On Its Way?


Obayashi Corp., headquartered in Tokyo, has unveiled a project to build a space elevator by the year 2050 that would transport passengers to a station 36,000 kilometers above the Earth and transmit power to the ground.

A cable, made of carbon nanotubes, would be stretched up to 96,000 kilometers, or about one-fourth of the distance between the Earth and the moon. One end of the cable would be anchored at a spaceport on the ground, while the other would be fitted with a counterweight.

The terminal station would house laboratories and living space. The elevator car could carry 30 people to the station at 200 kilometers per hour, a 7-1/2 day trip.

It would include a space solar power system to transmit power to the ground for electrical distribution.
Nothing will open up space like the implementation of the first space elevator. Robert A. Heinlein famously quipped, "If you can get your ship into orbit, you're halfway to anywhere." A space elevator will take the pain, danger, and expense out of getting people and material into orbit. From there, the solar system is ours.

Obayashi is to be commended for such long-term planning. 2050 doesn't sound like as distant a future as it once did, but it's still some 38 years from now. How long a period of time is that? Well, 38 years ago it was 1974. That means (assuming that Obayashi or someone else can deliver one in that kind of time frame) we are now as near in time to the space elevator as we are to the release The Godfather II or to Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record. We are as near in time to the end of the Watergate scandal as we are to the opening up of the solar system to human settlement.

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