Innovations in Space

Aug 13, 2012   //   by Pamela Greyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

In 2009, our Astrobiology class group included the space elevator in our presentation on the future of space exploration and colonization. As Curiosity sends images and data back to Earth, we will be preparing for the next steps in planetary exploration that will include Mars. The 2012 Space Elevator Conference will be held August 25-27 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Washington.

NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program: A Space Elevator

Space Elevator

In 2009 NASA’s Andrew Petro watched as a laser-powered robotic device climbed up a cable more than half a mile long above the Mojave Desert. A winner in the agency’s Centennial Challenges program—competitions designed to stimulate innovative research—the setup demonstrated the potential of wireless power transmission. That, along with work on superstrong materials, is creating fresh hope for a vision long the realm of science fiction: an elevator that can carry cargo, and possibly people, thousands of miles into outer space.

First described in 1960, the space elevator was also the subject of Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise. Construction is still far from viable, but the basic theory is sound, says Petro. Both power beaming and strong tether materials—crucial aspects of the elevator concept—are featured in NASA’s contests and the annual Space Elevator Conference. Another boon was the successful production in 1991 of carbon nanotubes, one of the strongest materials known. But making them suitable for a tether remains a challenge. So why a space elevator at all? Once built, say advocates, it would enable high-volume shipping at a lower cost than rockets. And once that’s possible, the next stop could be colonizing Mars. —Luna Shyr

A Family Science Fest will be held on August 25 in connection with the Space Elevator Conference. Great to see these events including families to kickstart the imaginations of the public to become engaged in commercial space conversation.

Click here for more information on the 2012 Space Elevator Conference

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