I Still Don’t Get the Space Elevator, But I Think It’s Cool!

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I think that the space elevator is a pretty nifty idea, even if thinking about it makes my brain hurt.

The concept, as I understand it, is to have this very thin, very strong, and very long piece of cable-like material known as “nano tubes” stretch from the earth, miles into space. It will stay erect through some laws of physics which I don’t understand, but which I am assured by those who do will work.

The latest news about the space elevator is that perhaps the only thing harder about the space elevator than my wrapping my brain around it is coming up with a proof of concept. NASA recently offered $100,000 in prizes for its Space Elevator Games, in which there were two challenges:

“The Beam Power Challenge tasks designers with building an unmanned machine, weighing 50 to 100 pounds (22 to 45 kilograms), capable of pulling itself up a 4-inch (10-centimeter) wide, 200-foot (61-meter) long ribbon suspended from a crane, and powered only by the energy beamed up from a 10,000-Watt xenon searchlight.”

And the Tether Challenge, in which “four teams offered their best formulation for an ultra-light, ultra-strong ribbon material. During one-on-one tug-of-wars, each of the entrants were tested to their breaking points.”

It is telling that nobody won either challenge, and all $100,000 remains locked in the NASA vault.

Still, it’s all very interesting.

1 thought on “I Still Don’t Get the Space Elevator, But I Think It’s Cool!

  1. The contest goals were rather modest and not (as I understand it) intended for a proof of concept – but rather to see about differing approaches to a common problem. And the contestants found out something we’ve been finding out for 18 months now – making stuff go up and down on a ribbon bouncing around in the wind is one of those harder than it looks deals.

    But some things were learned and next year’s teams will do better. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that jazz.

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