Monday, September 26, 2005

[geek] 30-second science blogging - the beanstalk comes closer

This has been sitting as a 'draft' item for a couple of days now, but seeing it listed in MSNBC's 'Clicked' column goosed me to finish it... Space elevator passes critical 1000ft test Space elevator? Yup, space elevator, also popularly (as the value of 'popularly' approaches the value of 'among hard science fiction geeks') called a 'beanstalk'. The first time I read about the concept was over two decades ago in a novel by Arthur C. Clarke, something he discusses here:
WHEN NEIL ARMSTRONG stepped out onto the Sea of Tranquillity in that historic summer of 1969, the science fiction writers had already been there for two thousand years. But history is always more imaginative than any prophet: no one ever dreamt that the first chapter of lunar exploration would end after only a dozen men had walked upon the Moon. Neither did anyone imagine, in those heady days of Apollo, that the solar system would be lost — at least for a long while — in the paddy fields of Vietnam.

Yet it was not the first time that ambition had outrun technology.


The space elevator was the central theme in my 1978 science-fiction novel The Fountains of Paradise (soon to be a Hollywood movie). When I wrote it, I considered it little more than a fascinating thought experiment. At that time, the only material from which it could be built — diamond — was not readily available in sufficient megaton quantities. This situation has now changed, with the discovery of the third form of carbon, C60, and its relatives, the Buckminsterfullerenes. If these can be mass-produced, building a space elevator would be a completely viable engineering proposition.
As for 'why', there's one very compelling answer: cost. Once it's built, the per-ounce price of getting stuff into space should plummet. And the folks who are trying to make that happen are here in Seattle. Actually, there's a lot of space-related activity taking place here in Seattle, and I don't mean Boeing. There's LiftPort, the elevator folks; there's Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, striving towards making inexpensive space flight a reality; sharing that goal is Space Transport Corporation (okay, they're out on the Olympic Peninsula, but still...). That's 3 major, well-financed space companies that I'm aware of. Over a century ago, Seattle grew tremendously as the result of its location: it was an ideal jumping-off point for Alaska and the Klondike gold rushes. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Seattle could reprise that role - as a jumping-off point for space. And there are a lot of very bright (and very well-funded) people here working with all their hearts to make that vision reality. Okay, longer than 30 seconds. But still - how cool is that?


Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

I think it's pretty cool, but I am biased.

I would question that Liftport is a major company. We are not yet a major company, but we've ambitions in that direction.

9/27/2005 06:24:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

I guess 'serious' would have been a better word choice - that's more of what I was getting at.

Thanks for stopping by!

9/27/2005 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger Ariel Boekweg said...

We are getting closer and closer to an actually space elevator. Even if it is still far away. Here at LiftPort we are working hard to make it come true. You can sign up for our newsletter to keep updated on the happenings of LiftPort at Also, we have a book coming out in january you can look it up on amazon. The name of the book is LiftPort Opening Space for Everyone. Thanks for you interest and support, Ariel Boekweg

9/30/2005 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

Interesting idea...

I wonder if they'll build one to send up "space tourists"? I can see people paying a lot of money for a brief spacewalk.

10/16/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

That's certainly one application that's been discussed.

10/16/2005 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

Oh, and it wouldn't be brief - this'd be along the lines of a week-long voyage, so you could have a ton of time in low-to-zero g. (I'm talking off the top of my head here, and I don't feel like looking my facts up, so if anyone more authoritative feels like chiming in, by all means - go for it.)

10/16/2005 03:42:00 PM  

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