One of my secret dreams is to become an eccentric billionaire and build a space elevator in Sri Lanka. You know, a set of tubes that go all the way up to space, hanging out there like … I dunno, waving nunchuks around your head? The general idea is that if you build a string out to space, the force of the earth spinning will keep it there. Just twirl your keys around your finger to see. If there’s the right speed and weight, a string will stay suspended around a thing, being it your finger or the earth. Then you can just scurry robots up and down the thing without flying all the way.
These futuristic engineering feats consist of a cable – also known as a ribbon or tether – of material stretching from the Earth’s surface into orbit. An anchor and Earth’s gravity at the lower end, and a counterweight and centrifugal force at the top end keep the elevator’s “cable” taut and stationary over ground station. Robotic ‘climbers’ would then pull themselves up the ribbon from the surface, through the stratosphere and out into space, potentially powered by lasers. The climbers could carry satellites up and bring minerals from the moon, or asteroids, back. They could take tourists into orbit or convey astronauts on the first part of their journey to the stars. No longer would space exploration be held back by gravity or rely on smelly, dangerous and expensive rockets. (BBC)
According to the BBC article above, which a friend kindly sent, such a project could cost $10-50 billion, or about the current price of the International Space Station, and reduce costs of getting to space from $16,700 per kilogram to about $100 per. ie, you or I could lose some weight and go to space. And it could be in Sri Lanka, which is near the equator. Or I guess Ecuador. OR, we could all get space elevators, and then move goods and people through space rather than over land. As in, you’d take the elevator up to space, and then take a serious of horizontal tubes to South America. Oooh, the possibilities. Arthur C. Clarke popularized the idea decades ago and, honestly, it’s really a matter of when rather than if. We won’t keep lighting fires to shoot stuff into space. For Sri Lanka, the relevant question is where. I’m not sure if this helps our case or not, but the youngest Rajapaksa son is reportedly trying to become a cosmonaut. As recently as 2007 it was reported that about 11% of NASA scientists were Sri Lankan. It’d be cool if they could do something awesome here.