An Earth-to-orbit elevator, sometimes called a “Beanstalk,” a “space bridge,” or an “orbital tether”, is one of those ideas that, at first blush, sounds almost too ludicrous to be real. Great photos.
After all, we’re accustomed to thinking of rockets as our only way into space, mixing danger and adventure; taking an elevator into space sounds almost boring. It turns out, however, that a space elevator is not only plausible, it’s potentially revolutionary. Perhaps more importantly, given all that has happened in recent days and weeks, the notion of a space elevator can provide a bit of almost giggly optimism about the future.
The present might look grim, but within 20-30 years, we’ll be taking an elevator to orbit!
We’ve talked about elevators numerous times in the past, but one aspect that we haven’t really addressed is appearance. For many of us, it’s a bit difficult to imagine what a 60,000 mile long elevator cable would look like. Fortunately, WorldChanging ally Kenn Brown, of Vancouver’s Mondolithic Studios, has given us a hand. Kenn has crafted detailed illustrations of the two types of space elevators described by futurists: the Tower and the Ribbon. Read on for the details — and follow the links to enjoy Kenn Brown’s terrific works of art.
The classic image of the space elevator, as envisioned early on in Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise and described even more fully in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, is a massive edifice, a solid tower many meters across, stretching for thousands of miles up from a high mountain anchor at the bottom to an asteroid anchor at the top, in synchronous orbit. Elevator cars the size of small apartments shuttle up and down the tower, taking people by the dozens (or hundreds) and tons of cargo. Such elevators are full-blown rocket replacements, but have several drawbacks: as solid structures, they need to be more-or-less right on the equator to be stable; they’d be hellaciously expensive and/or require near-magical technologies to build; and the wrong kind of accident could in principle bring the tower down, potentially even wrapping around the planet a couple of times (as vividly described by Robinson).