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Space Elevators
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Via fellow writer Robert Pickering, here's the scoop on one interesting alternative to getting into orbit: build a big-ass ladder and just climb.

From their Summary:

In simple terms, the space elevator is a ribbon with one end attached to the Earth's surface and the other end in space beyond geosynchronous orbit (35,800 km altitude). The competing forces of gravity at the lower end, and outward centripetal acceleration at the farther end, keep the ribbon under tension and stationary over a single position on Earth. This ribbon, once deployed, can be ascended by mechanical means to Earth orbit. If a climber proceeds to the far end of the ribbon and releases, it would have sufficient energy to escape from Earth's gravity and travel to the Moon, Mars, Venus and the asteroids.

Robert wonders who it might fall on. Good question.

They say this in the FAQ:

What if it falls?
The majority, the long end out in space, gains enough speed that it burns up in the atmosphere, with the lower portion falling into the sea. It will not fall on top of anyone.

Feel better now? Hmm...

Anyway, I have to admit, it's a cool concept. I think Arthur C. Clarke first broached the idea in Fountains of Paradise (though I've never read it).

So what are these things made of? Carbon nanotubes, of course. Only microns thick, but "stiff as a diamond", baby!

From what the HighLift Systems site says, the initial incarnation would be a ribbon 10cm to 20cm thick, but don't get your hopes up too much...this thing is still heavily in the experimental phase.

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