Elevating Space Travel

Troy Wilkinson

Have you ever wanted to travel to space and see the world as it looks like from the space station? It seems that in the near future that will be possible by way of a space elevator. The elevators on campus barely seem to work though, so it seems ridiculous that an elevator that goes all the way to space would be up for discussion, but it’s a project that’s being implemented within the century. The space elevator is one of the oddest sounding ideas that has surfaced in the past century.

One of the earliest men to conceive the idea of a space elevator, Arthur C. Clarke, said, “the space elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing.” Well it seems like everyone stopped laughing 14 years ago because Obayashi, a Japanese construction company, is aiming to implement one by 2050. There are a lot of benefits from having a space elevator: economic, environmental and ideological. It’d help save space transport costs (and facilitate tourism), lower the amount of air pollution, provide a better source of green energy and put space in the forefront of the public’s mind again. The gates to outer space would be pulled open, for both resource transportation and human travel.

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Currently, transporting resources to space for space stations and satellites uses rockets. This is extremely inefficient, both financially and environmentally. The rockets used for transportation cost thousands of dollars per kilogram. It’s about a hundred times as costly to transport cargo into space currently than the amount it would cost using a space elevator. Not only are costs lower for using a space elevator, but carbon emissions would be lowered as well after ending rocket usage. The amount of fuel used would also be less. Using an elevator would save on the amount of resources used and how much atmospheric pollution is emitted.

There’s also potential for gain in more resources through solar energy in space. Obtaining space solar energy would be much easier to do thanks to the space elevator. Space solar energy is exceptionally powerful, and a much stronger version of solar energy. It also has an extremely small impact on the environment.

There’s another, less tangible benefit coming from the space elevator that should be touched on, too. The capability for a regular person to travel to space is an immensely inspiring concept. Remember the moon landing? When America sent a man to space, the world couldn’t stop watching. Imagine what would happen if you could go yourself, if anyone could go to space.

When that capability actually exists, there will be a new frontier to explore. As space exploration becomes more of a reality the new goals will be reachable.

How would the elevator work, though? Using a type of cable, carbon nanotube composite tubes, that is more than a hundred times stronger than steel, the elevator would be capable of reaching Geostationary Earth Orbit. The elevator would have magnetically levitating cars that run up an extremely strong cable taking around thirty people at a time. Finally, after a week-long ride over 59,000 miles the elevator would reach its destination.

A big roadblock that’s delaying the creation of a space elevator is the low amount of carbon nanotube composite cable that can currently be produced. 2030 is the estimated time when cable production will match the needs for elevator production.

So when 2050 comes around expect to hear about vacations in space. The space elevator is becoming a reality.

Collegian Columnist Troy Wilkinson can be reached at letters@collegian.com