Monday, August 07, 2006

Are Space Elevators Earth Bound? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
A group from Bremerton, Washington is attempting to achieve what some consider impossible: construct a space elevator enabling humanity to not only escape Earth's orbit, but also reduce the cost of space travel thus opening up space for everyone.

Simply known as LiftPort, this companies goal is to construct a space elevator over 100,000 kilometers into space from an oceanic floor. But while constructing a space elevator may be feasible on Earth, building one off world may not.

In order for the space elevator cable to remain "straight" and upright, centrifugal force is needed to counteract the pull of gravity. Like a yoyo needs to be constantly spun around a hand in order to remain "a float," so will the counter weight of the space elevator need to be in motion around a world, otherwise it will collapse below to the surface.

Although Earth provides enough momentum with its 24 hour rotation, other worlds may lack the rotational speed to make construction a space elevator on them reasonable. Planets such as Mercury (if we could colonize it) and Venus may not be suitable since both planets have solar days that can last a couple months (if not longer).

An object as long as the space elevator would have much of its length exposed to the hazards of space, such as meteoroids and micrometeorites. Although it may be possible to move the space elevator slightly to avoid a collision with a small asteroid near the top, protecting the base of the elevator is critical in order to prevent the entire structure from drifting off into space via destruction of the "bottom anchor."

Earth's atmosphere presents a nice shield against these rocky intruders, protecting not only life on our homeworld, but also any future space elevator project. Despite the Moon being seen as a secondary location for a space elevator, it lacks a notable shield protecting it from the numerous meteoroids that hit the lunar surface.

The last thing investors would like to hear about on the news would be a space elevator either heading off into deep space or (even worse) one heading towards planet Earth itself.

Last but not least, a space elevator needs to be constructed in a zone free from atmospheric interference. Weather can determine whether or not a vehicle launches into space, and it would be silly to construct a space elevator in the middle of hurricane avenue as one would ensure its demise.

Some people see Mars as another possible world to construct a space elevator. With its 24 1/2 days, and an atmosphere that may protect it from meteorites (at least from comet particles) the red planet looks like an ideal spot.

Unfortunately Martian storms are known to cover the entire planet and it may be more reasonable to use the Martian moons as midway points (for smaller and larger ships) than to rebuild a space elevator every so often (due to its destruction via a global storm).

Although building a space elevator off world may prove to be unreasonable, building one on our own may not. The space elevator is one of four ways to transport objects from Earth to space (with the other three being chemical rockets, nuclear propulsion, and magnetic sled) and perhaps the only way to safely transport objects from space to Earth's surface.

The space elevator has the potential to revolutionize life on Earth as we know it and may be a necessary stepping stone to transport the masses from this Earthen cradle onto other worlds in our solar playground--and beyond towards the final frontier.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

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~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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