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Ride a Cable Car into Space

Researchers are planning to create cable car in space. Twenty tons of cable would need to be taken up to into space to get the project started. Space cable cars could also be established on planets like Mars.

For a space cable car to function, a cable with one end attached to the Earth?s surface would stretch upward over 200 miles. Once in place, passengers could ride an electromagnetic cable car into outer space. NASA Engineers are also looking into magnetic levitation, air breathing rockets, laser propulsion and lunar transfer vehicles.

The NASA budget for fiscal year 2003 includes an initiative to achieve faster space trips, and a space cable car would be one way to do it. Instead of rockets and liftoffs, the cable car would be a smooth ride into space up a long cable.

The competing forces of gravity between Earth and space would keep the cable under tension, so that the cable would remain stationary over a single position on Earth. An object released on the Earth end would have sufficient energy to escape gravity and travel to the moon or to more distant interplanetary targets.

The biggest challenge has been finding a super-strong cable material. ?That?s what has kept this idea in science fiction for 40 years,? says Bradley Edwards of Eureka Scientific in California. The solution is carbon-nanotube-composite ribbon. Small fibers of the material are set down side-by-side, then interconnected to form a growing ribbon. The problem has been the commercial fabrication of carbon nanotubes. Both U.S. and Japanese firms are stepping up their production, so tons of it will soon be available. ?That quantity of material is going to be around well before five years time. It?s not going to take long,? Edwards says.

?The making of carbon nanotubes is moving very quick,? says Hayam Benaroya, of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers. ?We?re moving from the scientific stage of just developing them to actual commercial entities producing them in ton-like quantities. Perhaps within our lifetimes we might actually see real designs of skyhooks and space tethers, these kinds of things. They may be feasible at reasonable cost.?

?Even though the challenges to bring the space elevator to reality are substantial, there are no physical or economic reasons why it can?t be built in our lifetime,? says Edwards. ?I?m convinced that the space elevator is practical and doable. In 12 years, we could be launching tons of payload every three days, at just a little over a couple hundred dollars a pound. In 15 years we could have a dozen cables running full steam putting 50 tons in space every day for even less, including upper middle class individuals wanting a joyride into space. Now I just need the $5 billion [to get started].?

To see images of the ?space elevator?,click here.

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