People Are Serious About Building A Space Elevator

The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) recently met in Seattle to discuss their progress on designing a transportation system that would cost "about 3,000 times less" than a space shuttle trip.

What's the Latest Development?

Last month the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) held its annual conference in at Seattle's Museum of Flight, where participants from a wide range of disciplines discussed their progress towards designing elevators that could transport people and cargo into space from a port either on Earth or on the moon. One potential building material that has piqued interest is the carbon nanotube, which is extremely strong and light but has yet to be woven or melded into the kind of realistically-sized components needed for such a huge project.

What's the Big Idea?

Space travel as it currently stands is fairly expensive -- at least $10,000 per pound sent into orbit, according to NASA -- as well as risky. The space elevator concept dates back to the late 19th century, and is perhaps more well-known from Arthur C. Clarke's 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise. According to ISEC president Peter Swan, an elevator would probably be slower, but also cheaper and safer. He is one of the contributors to a forthcoming International Academy of Astronautics study that claims it might be built for US$15 billion. Clarke himself is on record as saying, "[T]he space elevator will be built 10 years after everyone stops laughing." 

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