THE BIG IDEA: The Space Elevator

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The Space Elevator Conference.

Already, you might be thinking of comic books from the Golden Age, artwork from Omni Magazine, or covers of classic science fiction novels, but the space elevator is creeping closer and closer to fact as opposed to fiction. I make no bones about it—I like to track the progress of the Space Elevator.

As it says in the name, this is an elevator that goes all the way to space. Now you might think  questions is found in something you probably did regularly as a kid with a jumprope.

Suppose you would take a rope, you tie a weight at the end of it, and then begin twirling it. The weight will pull the rope out horizontally as you spin faster. What’s holding that weight out is the centrifugal force exerted by that weight as you spin. It’s the same force you feel on the ride at an amusement park or carnival that is simply a giant cylinder being spun around.

You see where I’m going with this?

Basic physics is how something like the Space Elevator would stay in orbit. Except in this case, the rope is attached to the Earth’s equator and extends all the way out into space. The weight at the end would be a satellite, an orbital platform, or some artificial structure out there would pull the ribbon very tight. Along this rope, ribbon, or cable, an elevator would be able to run back and forth between the Earth and the orbital platform.

And you thought Bush Gardens’ Loch Ness Monster was a wild ride.

It sounds like there is a whole lot that could go wrong. First of all, the ribbon. You don’t want an airplane to run into your ribbon. Obviously. That could easily be designated a “No-Fly Zone” and clearly marked for both day and night, but your second obstacle with a Space Elevator is what you use for the build. Conventional materials weigh too much, causing not only problems in production but also in the stress and tension placed upon them. Now theoretically carbon nanotubes have shown they are strong enough, but technology does not exist that can make carbon nanotubes thousands of miles long. There are also issues as you go through the Earth’s radiation belts, you know it might create problems. And, of course, how do you power the whole thing going?

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However, even though the Space Elevator is merely the dream of authors like John Scalzi, Chuck Wendig, and other science fiction authors of present and past, there is a conference every year that is held to talk about it. Why?

This conference brings together the best technical minds to talk about the issues and what the barriers are. By offering a platform like this, they are hoping that somebody will attend with a carbon nanotube breakthrough. Their projection is, at the current rate of technology development, carbon nanotubes will be mature enough around 2041. Yes, we may have to wait a few years but in 2041, but wouldn’t it be worth it for the ride of your life?

 


 


shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.


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