The Space Elevator Turns 50

So I have this running bet with myself that the "Singularity" (man's union with machine, et al) will arrive on a space elevator (a near mythical delivery system to space). In other words: Pessimism. Yuri Artsutanov is more optimistic.

Who, you ask? Surely, you've heard of Yuri Artsutanov, the inventor of the space elevator concept? If not, today's a good time to start learning, as it just so happens to be the 50th anniversary of Artsutanov's space elevator theory.

Back in 1960, when Artsutanov was first wracking his brain for cheap, effective ways to ferry passengers and cargo into orbit, he cooked up space elevators, and space theorists and futurists would never be the same.

Artsutanov, at the time, believed the technology would take 200 years to implement (if at all). Today, as I said above, he's slightly more optimistic. New timeline: 30 years from now, putting the first functional space elevator, nanowire filaments and carbon nanotubes and all, in operation by 2040.

The reason for Artsutanov's new-found optimism is a recent string of discoveries in the laser and nanotech spaces. The first, carbon nanotubes, are a real, live phenomenon that will see applications in everything from body armour to specialised surface coatings to space elevators. The second, a "laser-based energy transfer system" is an experimental technology that could be used to power robots, gadgets and space elevators using nothing but light. Both technologies, like space elevator theory, require a bit more research before we can slap a few ads on the side, page Richard Branson and call them commercial.

Nevertheless, Artsutanov and others at this year's 2010 Space Elevator Conference in Redmond, Washington, are more optimistic today than they were yesterday. For space-loving, elevator admiring futurist aficionados, that's as good a reason as any to think in 40 years we'll be pushing the "space" button on the ground floor of some office building. [MSNBC]

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