January 7, 2001
3:59 PM   Subscribe

Inspired partly by science fiction, NASA scientists are seriously considering space elevators as a mass-transit system for the next century.
If they hurry, I just might be able to make it into space before I die. Speed the plow Poindexter!
posted by thirteen (9 comments total)
Maybe with some genetic treatments we will live to see a space elevator.
posted by Zool at 4:11 PM on January 7, 2001

I think with 2001 here there's a great deal of revived enthusiasm/ nostalgia for the space race. But these guys told us we'd have re-usable tourist space shuttles by now... and we haven't even gone back to the moon yet. As for these starship-on-a-rope space elevators.... well, the future's wireless.
posted by tobyslater at 4:15 PM on January 7, 2001

I dunno... images of elevators breaking, and crashing back down to Earth come to mind.
posted by hobbes at 5:54 PM on January 7, 2001

I loved this quote: "The modern vision of a 50 km space tower -- the necessary anchor for any space elevator -- is far taller than the Eiffel Tower."

Wow, REALLY?! Maybe they should have written:

"The modern vision of a 50 km space tower -- the necessary anchor for any space elevator -- is far taller than the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower, which is in Paris, France (which is another country in Europe) is far taller than YOU, however.

posted by muppetboy at 11:18 PM on January 7, 2001

hobbes: Just such a thing was envisioned in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, Red Mars. Only on a different planet, as you might guess from that title. :)

More generally, though, Arthur C. "Ego" Clarke is the fellow who came up with the idea for geosynchronous orbits, even if he's more famous these days as an sf writer. I would think that the elevator in Fountains of Paradise was based on NASA studies to begin with, so it's really more of a feedback loop than an "inspiration" to NASA (as it's called in the article).

toby: You're right. If we had sunsats in orbit by now (solar power generating satellites), we'd be able to tell OPEC to sod off (let alone Mr. Hussein in Iraq). OTOH, a number of great big energy companies would be hurting for business if that were true. Now, what frequently happens when big multinationals have an agenda that the general public isn't aware of? Hmmm....

posted by aurelian at 1:24 AM on January 8, 2001

Tell me more about sunsats. I was under the impression that the inefficiency of transmitting electic power over long distances petty much ruled them out. Is that not true?

A few years ago, as part of a class project, some of our students were making a presentation to the CEO of a big power company and his execs (as part of a class project). They proposed power satellites that would beam power down via microwave and the CEO and his boys just blanched. Apparently, the idea of high-power masers in orbit had been breached before and, uh, proved unpopular with certain parties.
posted by rodii at 7:35 PM on January 9, 2001

The concept of transmitting power by microwave has been around forever. Unfortunately, it tends to have the side effect of cooking all life forms around it. That's why it isn't being done.
posted by aaron at 8:58 PM on January 9, 2001

Unfortunately, it tends to have the side effect of cooking all life forms around it.

So put the collector somewhere that has no life forms, like the Taklamakan in western China or the Rub al-Khali in Saudi Arabia. In either of these places, the beam could wander off-course for hundreds of miles without scorching anything but rocks and sand. There are other choices, too, if you don't need that much room for error.

I'd be a big fan of space-based solar collectors as an energy source if the high cost and vast scale of the hardware didn't guarantee an energy monopoly. Whoever controlled this system would own the planet.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:48 PM on January 10, 2001

It is a neat concept in theory, but if you think activists get riled up about plutonium space shots and nuclear power plants, you just wait until someone really proposes satellite power collectors. Such things would be inherently dangerous. Sure, you could beam it into the middle of the desert (though wouldn't that drastically increase transmission costs?), but all it would take is one screwed up computer command from the ground, and a few seconds later the sat would be beaming power into Times Square.
posted by aaron at 3:33 PM on January 10, 2001

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