I seem to recall reading an Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi novel once where there was an elevator into outer space. Like a lot of science fiction, it didn’t seem like it was something we’d see in our lifetime, if ever.
So you’d be probably be as surprised as I was to find out that such an invention is being investigated and explored actively. A space elevator is a thin ribbon, with a cross-section area roughly half that of a pencil, extending from a ship-borne anchor to a counterweight way out in space. It can carry up to 15 tons of cargo on a ribbon that is 62,000 miles long, about 3 feet wide, and is thinner than a sheet of paper, made out of carbon nanotube composites.
I came across this bit of futuristic information in checking on the exhibitors at the April 26-27 Cool Products Expo being held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The Expo is sponsored by the universitiy’s Graduate School of Business, Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing (AIM) and Stanford Engineering. The very first item on their list of exhibits is the Spaceward Foundation and work on its space elevator! Apparently NASA has recently completed a study of this form of transport and concludes that they could become a reality within 50 years.
If you visit the Cool Products Expo webpage, you’ll see that there are entries from General Motors, Segway, Freescale Semiconductor, Boston Scientific and other household manufacturing names. Many of these companies participate in the Stanford forum that is helping sponsor the Expo, the Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing (AIM). These companies, like most manufacturers, know that keeping ahead of the curve on new products and processes is what distinguishes manufacturing from all other sectors in the economy. We like to cite the equation manufacturing=technology=productivity. And these new ideas, no matter how far-fetched they may seem to us now, could be the basis of whole new industries within our lifetimes. After all, in the early 1800s, common knowledge was that a thing called a railroad would never work and that certainly no human could survive a wild 30 mph ride in any case. Be sure to check out that space elevator.
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