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Going up?

March 28, 2012

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Japanese company Obayashi Corp. is stretching the boundaries of science - and space. Their 96 000km Space Elevator is one in which you would hate the cocky kid who presses all the buttons.

The idea of a “space elevator”, stretching all the way from Earth’s surface to beyond the atmosphere, first entered public consciousness thanks to Arthur C. Clarke’s 1978 SF epic Fountains of Paradise. More recently, in the first chapter of contemporary bestseller Alastair Reynolds's Chasm City, there’s a space elevator which falls foul of a terror plot.

Lift rides to space may have been the popular stuff of sci fi geekery for years, but now Japan’s Obayashi Corp. has announced its ambition to build a genuine space elevator “within 40 years”. Travelling upwards for 36 000 km, the ultra-elevator would carry people from ground floor to a layer of orbital space stations. Those lift cars would need a huge library of elevator music – the trip each way could last seven to eight days. Imagine getting stuck halfway…

The proposed design features a 96 000 km-long cable connecting an Earth-based spaceport to a counterweight in orbit, about a quarter of the way to the moon. Elevator cars would then transport people along the cable between the spaceport and a research station above the Earth. Obayashi says the elevator would carry up to 30 passengers at a time. Never mind fear of heights, how are you when it comes to a bunch of strangers in a small enclosed space? < uncomfortable silence >

So just how feasible is such a project? How much would it cost? There are no firm estimates as yet, nor is there a set location for the spaceport/base from which the space elevator would rise. But if anyone can do it, it’s probably the Japanese. They always seem to be ahead of the curve somehow, don’t they?

Yours truly still remembers being totally wide-eyed and awestruck while playing a 3-D, LCD, handheld Tomytronic space game – back in 1984. That’s nearly three decades ago.

And Obayashi Corp. certainly seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to scaling new heights: they’ve just finished work on Japan's tallest structure, the Tokyo Sky Tree, which stands 2 080 feet (633.984 m) tall and opens to the public on 22 May. 

*Image credit: Obayashi Corp.


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