In the past few decades, technology has allowed us to live a reality that seemed like magic not so long ago. Talking to people on the other side of the planet? Easy. Flying in the air? Done. Man on the moon? Pfft. We did that in the sixties. Since science is getting more confident, and maybe a little egotistical, scientists have thought up a new scheme that sounds quite fantastical to us (although I guess that's what people thought before the internet existed). Scientists want to build an elevator that goes to the moon. Who knows, at the rate of technological advancement today, maybe it isn't so crazy. Lets wait a few years and see what happens.
Why Do Scientists Want to Build an Elevator to the Moon?
There are a few reasons why scientists have thought up this idea (aside from the fact that it'll be really cool). Going into space is actually very expensive (we're talking about tens of millions of dollars), but with the rapid advancement of space technology, scientists can't let money stop them. When the technology allows, we have big plans for the moon. We've already send the first spacecraft to the far side of the moon, the first private spacecraft to the moon, and NASA is aiming to put people back on the moon by 2025 by "any means necessary." Tourism to the moon will probably become as common as a trip to Bali, and beyond these baby steps, humans will most probably colonize the moon in the future. From there, no-one can predict what will happen.
Is It Actually Possible?
This could actually work. Researchers at Columbia University and Cambridge University came up with the idea, which can be read in PDF form here. According to their plans, the Spaceline would be tethered to the surface of the moon and would dangle down into the geostationary orbit of Earth. Instead of taking a rocket all the way out of Earth's orbit, astronauts would only have to reach the end of the Spaceline, where they would be free of gravity and atmospheric pressure. The spacecraft would meet up with the cable, latch onto the solar-powered shuttle, and climb along it to the moon.
The most amazing part? That the Spaceline could be built with materials that are available today. The researchers are comparing the Spaceline to the first railroads - "The movement of people and supplies along it are much simpler and easier than the same journey in deep space," Zephyr Penoyre, a Columbia astronomy graduate student behind the Spaceline said.
Why Doesn't the Cable Go All the Way to Earth?
It would be a lot easier to connect the Spaceline all the way to Earth, wouldn't it? Well, no. Earth's gravitational pull and rotation would break the cable before it could be finished. So the only option is to have the cable reach as close to the Earth as possible without getting effected by Earth's gravitational pull. There are two such points where this is possible: the Lagrangian points L1 and L2. To explain it simply, these are areas without any gravitational pull. Objects here can maintain a stable position.
If rockets only have to travel to these points, a huge amount of money will be saved, making going to the moon easier, cheaper and more accessible. Then scientists and researchers can spend less time getting to the moon, and more time colonizing it.
What Will the Spacelift Look Like?
The researchers investigated a number of shapes for the Spaceline, concluding that the best shape is extremely narrow at either end so it doesn't collapse under gravitational pressure and wide in the middle so it doesn't snap.
As for the material it will be made out of, one researcher has noted that carbon nanotubes would be the most suitable, but they can't yet be built to scale. However, several materials are allegedly up to the task - it's just a matter of finding the strongest one that can be made to scale. That said, the materials required for a lift in space don't require much strength (as there is no gravity); a ribbon of the material M5 30 mm wide and 0.023 mm thick would be able to support 4409 pounds on the moon's surface. Wow.
Long Weekend? Go to the Moon!
The Spaceline is an ambitious project, but then so was making hunks of metal fly in the sky. Just like taking an airplane is a normal, routine activity for most people today, perhaps in a few decades going to the moon will be as uneventful as catching an airplane to another country. There's no doubt that humans will get to the moon again. It's just a matter of time.
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