Monday, September 26, 2005

Another Successful Test For Space Elevator

Last week, Liftport made another successful climber test, this time the ribbon was 1,000 feet long. Now that this test was successful, Liftport is confident that a one mile climb is within reach. But why is this exciting when the final cable will have to be 62,000 miles long?

The idea of the space elevator began as science fiction more than a hundred years ago. Although still impossible with today's technology, several groups are working on the idea and it becomes less impossible with each test. This is what makes it exciting: it's humans at their most noble, trying to do the impossible. The best part is that step by step, they are succeeding.

I am hopeful that by the end of the next decade, the space elevator may be a reality. However, I don't believe the government should build it. Some have criticized NASA's plan to return to the moon, saying it's more of the same and the money should be spent on something new, such as the space elevator. That kind of thinking is misguided.

First of all, the space elevator is currently impossible to build. Just because it is expected that we will be able to build one before 2020, doesn't mean that we will. Having NASA focus on the problem may result in success but it could just as easily end as a colossal failure with massive cost overruns. The new plan uses what works, learning from the lessons of the past.

Secondly, I believe that government should only lead the way in exploration and not dominate already covered ground. The space elevator is just a better way of getting to space at a lower cost, the perfect project for business, while achieving lower costs is something government is terrible at.

Working towards developing a moon base, however, is territory best suited to government. There are so many unknowns that it is unlikely that private industry would be able to risk any venture there. By leading the way, NASA eliminates many of those unknowns and provides a benchmark for private industry to use when developing business plans for lunar colonization.

I hope that some company will build a resort on the moon during the 2020's to be followed by some form of mining operation but the financing won't be there unless there is a real world example of what it takes to maintain a presence on the moon. While this colonization will be more likely if there is a functioning space elevator, if that elevator is an expensive government boondoggle the entire enterprise could be rendered non-viable. Massive failures generally dissuade people from trying again.

However, if it is a profitably run private space elevator then the potential for space exploration is tremendous, which is why I support the folks at Liftport and want to see them continue to dare greatly in the face of the impossible. There's still lots to do but they are off to a good start.


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