Don't Book Your Tickets Just Yet

A few months ago I blogged about the Space Elevator. For science optimists, the space elevator is a cool idea and perfectly feasible given the right technology. The idea is to attach a paper-thin ribbon constructed of carbon nanotubes to a platform on earth and counter-weight it in orbit. People and materials can then be run up the ribbon at a fraction of the cost of a shuttle launch. It seems there might be a setback, however.

Nicola Pugno is publishing a paper questioning how durable the carbon ribbon will be. Pugno argues that atomic-scale defects in the ribbon will make it much weaker than currently estimated. I'm sure other physicists will debate this, especially the space elevator's main advocate, Brad Edwards. He contends he could construct the ribbon in 3 years given the right funding. I'm a little skeptical of that myself, but I'm glad people are going to keep working on this. Perhaps in my lifetime we'll have our first elevator going up.

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