>Inflatable space elevator

>Spotted this article on the New Scientist website. It seems an inflatable tower could take us a long way towards orbit, using conventional materials. I can’t help thinking you’d need one hell of a puncture repair kit to hand, but it’s a fascinating addition to the whole space elevator debate.

There’s an annual competition, I think, to promote the development of the kind of super=strong materials you’d need to build to run a cable from low orbit down to an anchoring point on the ground. As I recall, last time round the machinery built to test the materials wasn’t strong enough to hold up under the strain …

Space elevators crop up from time to time in SF, most memorably for me in Arthur C Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise. I remember reading another book published around the same time – The Web Between the Worlds by Charles Sheffield. Out of print now I think. I don’t remember much about the story, but I do recall a character who ran a worldwide computer network, and who asserted that the real power in such a network wasn’t the computers, or even the data, but the ability to catalogue and search that data. I thought that was a neat observation back in 1980, and wondered if such a catalogue-and-search system would ever appear in my lifetime. Maybe I should Google it …

Another memorable space elevator is the Mars elevator in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red/Blue/Green Mars trilogy. It’s used as the stage for the spectacular finale to Red Mars. Much easier to build one on Mars, of course, as there’s less gravity and there are lots of handy asteroids close by to use as anchors for the space station at the top of the tower. I particular like the way Robinson’s tower has a carefully calculated wobble to yank it out of the way of those inconvenient moons.

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