How an Elevator to Space would Work

For many years, science fiction writers, and actual scientists alike have wondered whether it might be possible to make an elevator that would reach all the way to outer space, thus eliminating the need for rockets and the inherent danger they possess.

Strange as it might seem, this is not a crazy idea, and in fact there are legitimate scientists all over the world working on this very idea; with the reason being, that it would significantly reduce the costs of sending up satellites and other space based communication gear.

The reason that so many scientists are becoming convinced it might be done is because the technology to do it has lately become a reality.

The basic idea behind a space elevator is that there would be a very long strand of some kind of thin lightweight but strong material that would reach all the way to outer space, where it would have some massive object affixed to the end of it. And the reason this long strand would work is because of centripetal force; the same force that causes a bucket on a string when spun around the head to maintain an orbit around the person holding the string. The farther out the strand reached with a space elevator, the more force there would be exerted, thus the need for a really strong material.

Well, as it so happens, it looks like scientists might just have found the material they were looking for; carbon nanotubes; which are nothing more than carbon molecules that line up and hold together with incredible strength; and what’s more filaments made of carbon nanotubes have been created with as small a ratio of length to width as 132,000,000 to 1, which would mean it would be feasible to make a very thin strand that would possess incredible strength.

But, there are of course still problems or they’d be building that space elevator as we speak. The main one is that even though it is possible to make a strand as far as would be needed to go, there still remains the problem of the weight of that strand; which as it stands now, is just too great, at least at the bottom end of the strand where gravity pulling down on the strand would be stronger than the centripetal force trying to pull it up into outer space. There’s also the small problem of how to propel an elevator up such a strand if it did indeed exist. The problem is not so much power, as it is time. Rockets travel at many hundreds of thousands of miles per hour, elevators do not, and so unless someone can figure out how to make an elevator ride a thin strand into space at very high speeds, this problem will remain, because who wants to ride an elevator that might take several months to reach outer space?

But as of right now, this really isn’t the issue, the bigger issue is that it looks like this concept will work at some point, which will mean traveling to outer space could become as mundane as riding up to the fifth floor of an office building to go to work every day.