We all want to go to space, and ideally we'd like to be able to do it without being forced to sell everything we own, including our blood. That's not possible yet, but a company in Japan is hoping to help us out with the construction of a massive elevator that would stretch a quarter of the way to the moon.
Obayashi Corp.—the company that's just about to finish Japan's new tallest building, the 2,000-foot Tokyo Sky Tower—announced this week that they've begun planning on the elevator project, and they claim they can get it in done in just 40 years.
It would work (in theory) like this:
The elevator shaft would use carbon nanotube technology, which is 20 times stronger than steel, and stretch 60,000 miles into space. The elevator itself would be large enough to hold 30 people at a time, and would travel upward at about 124 miles per hour until it reached a station approximately 22,300 miles above the earth. Of course, if you do the math, that means the trip would take about a week, so the elevator would also have to be equipped with some kind of living quarters for the space tourists, not to mention a very diverse selection of muzak.
At the 22,300-mile mark there would be a station where the space tourists could disembark and look around. The other 38,000 or so miles of elevator shaft would be reserved for researchers to make trips further out into space.
Obayashi hasn't gotten into the more pressing details of the project just yet, such as how much it would cost or where to build it or how exactly how the world's space agencies will feel about a giant 60,000-mile tube jutting out of the earth. The important thing right now is whether such a thing is even possible.
"We were inspired by construction of Sky Tree. Our experts on construction, climate, wind patterns, design, they say it's possible," project leader Satomi Katsuyama said.
And Katsuyama's not the only one. Science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke also thought it could happen someday when he wrote his Hugo and Nebula Award-winning 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise, which tells the story of an "orbital tower" used to raise important cargo into orbit around Earth without the use of expensive rocket fuel. Clarke's tower also stopped at 22,300 miles, right where Obayashi plans to park its tourist station.
So, is this just a sci-fi scheme in the tradition of great storytellers like Clarke, or could it actually happen?