The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.
With humanity on the verge of leaving their terrestrial cradle, one can only imagine how far they will go in order to explore, build and conquer other worlds. But whether we choose to enter space via chemical and nuclear rockets, or magnetic sleds, we may have to construct a space elevator, even if the previous methods become cheaper in the future.
Whether or not one acknowledges global warming, most people can agree that air pollution is a major concern for our environment. Although much of it comes from common vehicles such as automobiles, a large portion comes from power plants, especially coal.
Many communities have responded to this by building "clean, safe," nuclear power plants. Although they do not pollute our atmosphere they can leave a nasty side effect called nuclear waste which can take thousands of years to decay or worse be spun into weapons.
Removing them off our planet would not only ensure that future descendants do not spin them into weapons, but that our environment would not suffer from a dump site leak.
Since most nations would be uncomfortable having a rocket or magnetic sled hurling nuclear materials half way around the planet (especially in their neighborhood), a space elevator could easily solve this problem by moving nuclear waste "slowly" off our planet from a location away from major populations.
The waste could then be disposed of by a robotic shuttle in space and then dumped on Venus (or perhaps even hurled towards the sun).
Although most of humanity is probably fit for space travel, there remains a vast minority who are either unfit physically (as in the case of Stephen Hawking) to travel to the stars. Despite lacking the physical strength to endure the trip, these people may have a lot to offer humanity as far as intellect and our understanding of the universe goes.
Leaving these people behind to observe the universe through others would be nothing more than to deny them the opportunity to explore the universe for themselves. A space elevator would allow those who are disabled or not healthy enough to travel via rocket (or magnetic sled) to join the rest of humanity in our quest to colonize the stars.
But before we can even adequately transport large numbers of people into space, (as well as dangerous materials on Earth) humanity will need to figure out a way to remove nearly 4,800 satellites no longer in use, circling our globe. Although many of these satellites are unusable, they may hold some historical value such as humanities first satellite into space, Sputnik 1.
Unfortunately despite their value, many of these objects can not be brought back towards earth because of the dangers that they would pose to both the shuttle and the crew. A space elevator could enable humanity to get a glimpse of their past by enabling the safe transport of distant satellites from space to Earth (possibly through solar dump trucks).
Not only would scientists and historians enjoy the return of some of the satellites to planet Earth, but also engineers as well (as they could finally figure out what went wrong in the past). A space elevator may even allow us to recycle these satellites and refurbish them for other missions.
Whether we get to space en mass through rockets or magnetic sleds only the future can tell. But regardless on the vehicle chosen to get to the stars and beyond, we may have to construct a ladder to the future to not only resolve problems around and on Earth, but to insure that all may have the opportunity to fully enjoy the cosmos.
(Hat Tip: Space Elevator Journal)
Update: Corrected some grammatical errors.
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