Space Elevators

Space elevators. Great for reducing the cost of exploring the universe. Not so good if you hate small talk and listening to experimental jazz.

Right now the only ways to get into space are to either be an astronaut, a billionaire, or have a really big sling shot. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Enter the concept of the space elevator.

How would it work? In order to understand how space elevators would get us into space, we first must understand what an orbit is. Being in orbit is basically falling towards something, but falling fast enough to miss. It’s kind of like how in Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you can fly as long as you accomplish the art of falling to the ground and missing. Rather clever when you think about it…

If you throw a ball on Earth, it makes an arc in the air before hitting the ground. In space gravity makes you move much the same way, but if you move sideways fast enough, the curvature of the earth makes the ground fall away beneath you as fast as gravity pulls you toward it. So in order to escape Earth’s orbit, a rocket needs to burn enough fuel to go up and sideways at high speeds.

A space elevator however, uses energy from the Earth’s rotation in order to get the job done. So unlike a rocket, you only need to provide the energy to go up. Going sideways is already provided by the energy of the Earth’s rotation.

Yet a space elevator would be the largest and most expensive structure built by humans. So is it worth it? Right now the fuel required for putting rockets into space is very expensive. Which is probably why we haven’t bothered to put a man back on the moon since 1972. Or maybe Disco music killed our motivation to do anything to move humanity forward after the seventies. But the point is that a space elevator would streamline this and reduce costs by 100 fold, while increasing the length of awkward conversations about the weather on Mars by 100 fold.

Yet despite the challenges, the payoff of building a space elevator could be immense.


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