Space Elevator – Science Fiction Or The Future Of Mankind?

It’s hard to get to space As much as we all wish there were an easy, and affordable way to see our planet
floating in the dark Right now, the only way is to become
an astronaut or a billionare But there is a concept
that might make it possible -while serving as the starting point
for the exploration of the universe- The space elevator How exactly does it work? To understand how a space elevator
will get us into space We must first understand
what an orbit is Being in orbit basically means
falling towards something, but moving fast enough to miss If you throw a ball on earth
it makes an arch through the air, and then hits the ground In space, gravity makes you move
much the same way, but if you move sideways fast enough the curvature of the earth makes the ground
fall away beneath you as fast as gravity pulls you towards it So, to enter Earth’s orbit
rockets have to go up and sideways fast By contrast, a space elevator
taps into energy from Earth’s rotation to get the cargo going fast Imagine a child spinning a toy on a rope
with an ant on the child’s hand As the ant climbs out along the rope it starts to move faster and faster
as it ascends Compared to rockets,
with cargo launched on an elevator you only need to provide
the energy to go up Fast sideways movement comes free
with the Earth’s rotation But the space elevator would without a doubt be the single largest and most expensive
structure ever built by humans So, is it worth it? It all comes down to costs Rockets burn a huge amount of rocket fuel just to get a small
amount of cargo into space At current prices, it costs about $20,000
to put one kilogram of payload into space that’s $1.3 million dollars
for the average human $40 million dollars for your car billions for
an international space station This immense cost is one of the major
limitations of human spaceflight Even with advancing technology, this cost isn’t likely to be comparable with the
price of an airline ticket anytime soon A space elevator would solve this problem After construction, a space elevator is projected to reduce the cost
one hundredfold to $200 per kilogram If an inexpensive space elevator
costs 20 billion dollars, then we’ll recoup our losses
after launching only one million tons Close to the weight
of two international space stations So what would a space elevator look like
in real life? A space elevator has four major components: the tether, anchor, counterweight
and climber The elevator part of the space elevator
is the tether and the climber It extends from the surface of the Earth to space The climber is like a conventional
elevator carriage A chamber that works its way
up and down the tether At the base would be an anchor pinning the tether to the Earth
along with a port for climbers At the top is the counterweight
which holds up the tether The tether is held tight like a rope and supported from above
by the tension from the counterweight Located higher than 36,000 kilometers
above the Earth’s surface At the counterweight
could be a space station, a launching point for all missions
from the spaceport elevator But can we actually build one? It’s hard to say The biggest challenge is the tether It needs to be light, affordable and more stable than any material
we can produce right now There are promising materials
like graphene and diamond nanothreads, but even they may not be strong enough And aside from being incredibly strong, the tether would also have to withstand
atmospheric corrosion, radiation and micrometeorite and debris impacts Additionally, it takes several days
to climb the elevator How do we power the climber? It requires a lot of energy to go up Do we need a nuclear reactor
on our elevator carriage? Or do we beam it power from the ground
with a super powered laser? And where do we get the raw materials
for a 36,000-kilometer-long tether? Do we make it on Earth
and launch it into space? Or do we make it in space
and lower it down to the Earth? Could asteroid mining be the answer? Put simply, there are still some major
technological hurdles to overcome And a space elevator is not without risk Should the tether break,
it would collapse in spectacular style If it breaks near the anchor the force exerted by the counterweight
will cause the entire elevator to rise up ascending into space Should it break near the counterweight the tether will fall, wrapping around the world
and whipping the end off The resulting debris in orbit could pose
serious problems to future spaceflight If we build a space elevator on Earth,
we have to do it right the first time For these reasons some experts
have proposed first building a space elevator on the Moon The Moon’s gravity
is much weaker than the Earth’s so a flimsier but existing material
like kevlar could serve as a tether Even with all these challenges, the payoff of having a working
space elevator would be immense It might be the first step to truly becoming
a space-faring civilization Maybe we will never build
a space elevator, but in trying to do so
we might learn an awful lot And when it comes
to the exploration of the universe, there can’t be too many dreams
of a glorious future
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