The great glass elevator

A climber near the top of the space elevator
As usual, the space scientists leave me open-mouthed with wonder. Latest preposterous challenge: getting stuff into space is expensive – rockets and space-suits and beef stroganoff in a tube and all that – so why not forget the big bang and winch your satellite up a long cable ‘anchored’ 100,000 km up there in an orbit way beyond geo-stationary (that’s about three times the circumference of the earth so you’re going to have a pretty good view from the top of your cable). Groovy carbon nano-tubes are going to make this possible – there’s nothing strong enough to make that cable from yet.

Once the materials have been invented it’s just a matter of setting aside a few trillion dollars and a very large proportion of the earth’s energy budget to get the thing built and then to power the elevators up to orbit (no elevator could carry enough fuel for a 100,000 km climb and you can’t just plug it into the wall so you’ll have to power it from a laser or an energy beam down here on the surface). The elevator idea holds out the promise of twice-daily runs to any orbit you like (about a quarter of the way to the moon, in fact). Speed will be an issue – at walking pace it’s going to take you three years to get to the top – but if it’s really cheap, who cares?