Monday, June 19, 2006

Building a Stairway to Heaven

I don't know why exactly, but this discover.com article about a space elevator really captivates me. The basic idea is that we would need a big satellite in geosynchronous orbit (always staying the same place in the sky) with some long cables attached to it. A series of elevators would then climb up and down the cables up into space - reducing the price of getting people and stuff into orbit from $10,000 to $100 a pound.

The article continues to describe what riding one of these elevators would be like:

The first five miles would seem familiar to air travelers, but at the seven-mile mark, Earth's curvature would become noticeable, and by 30 miles the sky would turn black and the stars would become visible, even in daytime, on the climber's shaded side.

At 100 miles, Earth would clearly appear as a partial sphere. By 215 miles, gravity would drop by a noticeable 10 percent; by 456 miles, it would drop 20 percent. And at around 1,642 miles - roughly 13 hours into the trip - it would drop by 50 percent.

At the 22,000-mile-high geosynchronous orbit stop, Earth would appear the size of a baseball held at arm's length.
If this is as feasible as the author thinks, it really could put a trip to space in the budget of an ordinary civilian in our lifetime. Imagining this sends shivers up my spine - the absolute grandeur of the Earth in all its glory - slowly seeing more and more of the entire thing unfolding before your eyes. Any votes for scrapping the silly Mars project 'til we get one of these up and running?

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