From the Earth to the Moon
August 12, 2002 12:43 PM   Subscribe

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne: A capital idea. Why did we not fasten a thread to our projectile, and we could have exchanged telegrams with the earth?. Bad idea, said Jules. Great idea, says NASA.
posted by thijsk (27 comments total)
I always heard the problem was what if the cable came crashing down it would cause a lot of destruction it wouldnt fall straight down.

Although if the Golden Gate Bridge has 80,000 miles of cable makeing a 35,000 kilometer cable seems very reasonable.
posted by stbalbach at 1:15 PM on August 12, 2002

Is it just me or do the folks in that photo seem to be a little...ummm...close to the runway? How is that safe?

Oh, and as far as the space elevator goes, I'd support it, but only if it moved faster if you pushed the elevator button a lot of times in rapid succession.
posted by ColdChef at 1:25 PM on August 12, 2002

High Lift Systems, the company that is proposing to do this. Includes a FAQ dealing with a number of questions that are bound to be raised here.
posted by bingo at 1:26 PM on August 12, 2002

What a great al-Queda target. What would they need, like a big set of boltcutters?

"American Technology: Making Things Easier For Those Who Would Harm Us"
posted by luser at 1:31 PM on August 12, 2002

They'll be patting people down for hacksaws.
posted by RylandDotNet at 1:42 PM on August 12, 2002

This first space elevator could be built for between $7-$10 billion, and would reduce lift costs immediately to $100 per kilogram, as compared to current launch costs, which are $10,000-$40,000 per kilogram

Wow, I could go to space for $12,000!

I hope they have McDonald's in space.

Seriously, though, this would be the most awesome thing ever if they can do it.
posted by RylandDotNet at 1:48 PM on August 12, 2002

Whoever puts up the first elevator could eventually own space for the next 100 years."

So it's a Microsoft project?
posted by HTuttle at 1:49 PM on August 12, 2002

I think this was Larry Niven's idea, wasn't it? Anyone?
posted by velacroix at 1:50 PM on August 12, 2002

Thanks for the FAQ link, Bingo, but unfortunately it didn't answer my initial question - 'How in the hell do you anchor that thing?'
posted by mathis23 at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2002

Previous discussion of space elevators.
posted by euphorb at 1:58 PM on August 12, 2002

NASA space elevator project info, including links to other NASA sites; How Space Elevators Will Work; on the same project earlier this year; even Otis has endorsed the concept.

As for the folks "near" the runway, keep in mind the shuttle's body is two stories tall. This was taken with a high-powered lens and attendant foreshortening. I don't know what NASA's exclusion zone for authorized staff would be, but the shuttle lands without power. The main reason for the safety zone around launches is the risk of explosion. At any rate, they're not as close as you think.

luser: You have a point. The space elevator in the Red Mars trilogy was destroyed by terrorism. But in principle the base of a space elevator is certainly no less secure than any other facility, like the Kennedy Space Center. (And yes, NASA is concerned about terrorism, e.g. MANPADs.) Notably, the High Lift people are thinking of an anchor point at sea.

In any case, the material used would not be so easily cut. It would need to be an advanced hybrid, perhaps a ceramic of some kind, with tensile strength many times that of steel. (A nanotube ceramic could be used to cut a diamond.) Though a single nanotube might be only millimeters thick, the cable for a space elevator would involve several strands twisted together, just like bridge cables. Also, the anchoring process is only notional: a proper space elevator cable to geostationary orbit balances itself, and holds position.

velacroix: *sigh* Kids today. Try Clarke. But it really comes from a Russian engineer, Yuri Artsutanov; who essentially refined an idea that's either as old as Tsiolkovsky or as old as Babylon.

On an historical note, today is 25 years since Enterprise first took free flight.
posted by dhartung at 2:04 PM on August 12, 2002

This article has some good technical data. As does this one. Might be of some help... but it's all about antigravity drives.
posted by woil at 2:04 PM on August 12, 2002

MANPADS...the first product for men to help combat that 'not so fresh' feeling.
posted by mathis23 at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2002

How in the hell do you anchor that thing?

With a ocean-going platform, apparently.
posted by walrus at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2002

What about tidal forces?
posted by signal at 2:13 PM on August 12, 2002

A yet to be discovered scientific fact is that if you were to tie the Earth and the Moon together with a metal cable, the results would be absolutely catastrophic.
posted by jmccorm at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2002

whoa, thats one hell of a lightning rod.
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:05 PM on August 12, 2002

whoa, thats one hell of a lightning rod.

It seems that one of the big [problems with/assets of] this kind of thing would indeed be static electricity.
You'd also have this enormous long cheesecutter wire for planes, satellites and birds to split themselves on...
posted by rhruska at 4:00 PM on August 12, 2002

This has gotta be a gag. The moon's not in a geostationary synchronous orbit over the Earth. If they use the ocean to do the platform thing as one 'anchor' connecting the cable to the moon, that platform better have some mean engines on it cuz the platform would have to drive through the world's oceans constantly to keep up with the moon. And they better make the Panama Canal bigger.

Okay maybe I'm gonna look like an idiot here, but this is why I think this is total bullshit. The Earth spins at one revolution per day. The moon orbits the Earth about once every twenty some odd days. So within a day of hooking the moon up to the Earth, either the cable would break, or the moon's orbit would get adversely screwed up and both the Earth & the moon would aquire erratic orbits in space and everything would go all higgledy-piggledy.

IF they could do this, the area around the cable would become a no fly zone that was seriously enforced. Since the cable in question would be accumulating static electricity at a rate unparalleled, if properly channelled it could become a useful power source, but I doubt you could run a lift on it with any measure of safety whatsoever.

If you were an ant on a baseball, and this ping pong ball was spinning around the baseball on a string, would you climb up that string? No way. You'd stay on the baseball where it's safe. But then a century ago people used to say if God wanted man to fly he'd a given us wings, so I'm sure someone'll someday figure out how to make it work. I think it's all hogwash though. It's physically not plausible.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:43 PM on August 12, 2002

Although if the Golden Gate Bridge has 80,000 miles of cable makeing a 35,000 kilometer cable seems very reasonable.

This is not an accurate comparison. The Golden Gate Bridge has 2 cables, and each of them is 7,650 ft long. Each cable, in turn, is made up of 27,572 parallel wires. So the total length of wire used is 2 x 7650 x 27572 = roughly 421 million feet of wire, or 80,000 miles of wire. There is not an 80,000 mile long cable or wire anywhere in the bridge.
posted by pitchblende at 6:13 PM on August 12, 2002

Additional and larger elevators built utilizing the first one would allow large-scale manned and commercial activities in space and reduce launch costs to possibly $10/kg.

UPS, eat your heart out!
posted by dg at 6:27 PM on August 12, 2002

To put this cable into perspective: the cable will have to be about 35,000k long. The diameter of the earth is what, about 12,560k?
posted by slipperywhenwet at 6:29 PM on August 12, 2002

From High Lift's FAQ:

[if part of the cable fell] what effect will it have on the environment?
Honestly, it will make a little bit of a mess. But New York City tickertape parades have made bigger messes.

Uhhhh.. yeah... suuuuuuure. Like dhartung pointed out, a space elevator falls in Robinson's Mars trilogy. It makes more than a 'bit' of a mess.. To be fair, their design seems to be a lot lighter than Robinson's, and our air is a lot thicker, but still.. Anyone know of any independent estimates of the damage something like this could do?
posted by slipperywhenwet at 6:44 PM on August 12, 2002

Uh, Zach: The bit about the moon was only to bring in the Jules Verne reference. If you actually read the articles linked (I know, not very sporting), the NASA-funded study has nothing to do with the moon. Also, the HLS folks say any current generated would be on the order of milliwatts.

Of course, the static electricity properties of tethers -- essentially a smaller version of the same technology -- are quite useful. Mir used to have a tether that generated part of its electricity; the Russians always did better with them, while NASA had several well-publicized failures and and some lesser-known successes. Tethers could also be used for raising or lowering a satellite, or even slinging packages from one craft to another.

slippery: One supposes that will be part of what the grant is for. It's pretty hard, incidentally, to do engineering studies on a nonexistent design.
posted by dhartung at 8:10 PM on August 12, 2002

But how will we protect ourselves from the mooninites?

Anyways, reasonable use for low earth orbit elevators, and space stations that I always remember were to make better computer chips in the vacumn of space, and maybe a data haven.

Someone pointed out that to build this transport technology (and elevator or a station) would cost far more than it does to establish a similar though possibly inferior item on earth. As such, until someone can find the money to burn or a very good reason to travel regularly to space, it probably won't happen (unless if there's something I most likely missed).
posted by drezdn at 12:37 AM on August 13, 2002

What about building it all in space and lowering it, slowly to earth?
posted by Neale at 1:26 AM on August 13, 2002

What a great al-Queda target. What would they need, like a big set of boltcutters?

"American Technology: Making Things Easier For Those Who Would Harm Us"

We should end human progress right now, level all the skyscrapers, demolish the bridges, blast the faces off Mount Rushmore, and level DisneyWorld. Then we'll be safe!
posted by rcade at 6:01 AM on August 13, 2002

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