Recall when Charlie and Willy Wonka traveled around Earth in a glass elevator in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator? Remember how fun that sounded? Your childhood dreams (or adulthood dreams, depend on when you read the book) of taking a stellar trip in an elevator might be a reality in the foreseeable future.
A Japanese company has announced plans to construct an elevator capable of traveling all the way up to space that would peak at a terminal station where, even more incredibly, people live. The company, Obayashi Corporation, aims to complete a space elevator by 2050 thanks to the engineering wonder that is carbon nanotubes, which are said to be 20 times stronger than steel.
As you could probably imagine, the amount of carbon nanotubes needed to construct such a colossal elevator is a barely fathomable. Obayashi didn’t state exactly how much of the material would be needed, but the plan calls for a cable to be stretched into space about 96,000 kilometers (or 59,651.63 miles). To put that into context, that’s a quarter of the distance between earth and the moon. Have a gander at the diagram offered up by Obayashi that illustrates how this elevator might look.
Since I know you’re wondering how long the trek would be to take this great elevator through the sky, travelers can expect to spend about 7-1/2 days traveling up to the station.
The idea for space elevators has been around for several years and has been discussed by companies before. Have a look at the video below that, in addition to other things, features a space elevator-building competition hosted by NASA a few years ago. Going back even further, the USSR was even discussing plans for a space elevator all the way back in 1982, which generated much inspiration among sci-fi luminaries like Arthur C. Clarke.
The idea of a space elevator might seem counter-intuitive to some but, in practice, it makes more sense than any current means of space travel because commuting via space elevator would cost a lot less than launching space shuttles. And, as you can probably intuit, less cost for space trips means more trips into space. Michio Kaku, your friendly neighborhood physicist and futurist superstar, explains in the video below why this method of space travel would greatly benefit any exploration of outer space.
Sometimes, we humans really are an exquisitely imaginative and fun species.