The concept of a space elevator is one of the coolest ideas to come out of science fiction. A tower climbing into space, this idea has been seen across a large number of sci-fi franchises: Star Trek, Halo and many more.
Conceived in 1969 by NASA scientist Jerome Pearson, the space elevator concept tethers space to points on Earth. If technology allowed, these elevators could be connected to locations such as a space base or The Moon.
Interestingly, this concept may not be stuck in the realm of science fiction for much longer. In fact, some scientists believe that the technology could be realised in just a few decades.
Vanier College professor Stephen Cohen discussed the possibility in science journal Scientific American. The scientist believes that the sci-fi space transport will soon be viable in the world of reality.
With a background as “an aerospace engineer and physics professor”, Cohen believes that the technology is an inevitability. As companies start to build space hotels, space movie studios and more, this reliable transportation will be much better for the environment than constant rocket launches.
“It’s a much more practical way to get to orbit than rockets,” Cohen said. “Transits involving humans would be safer than current practices, whereby astronauts must accept a nonnegligible risk to their lives with each launch. A space elevator becomes a bridge to the entire solar system.”
The biggest issue regarding the creation of a real-life version of this sci-fi technology is the strength of material needed. In order to create a functioning version of the orbital elevator, it would require materials 50 times stronger than steel.
With this material, a number of different traversal methods could be used to realise the concept. For example, Cohen explains that maglev rail transporters could be used to transport passengers or cargo at high speeds into space.
Cohen believes that the materials needed for this technology could feasibly be created in the next “two or three decades”. However, this is simply from the assumption that scientists will continue to invent new materials at the rate they are currently.
Of course, this could mean that the technology could be realised even sooner. With AI creating materials at an alarming rate, the correct equipment could be created by a computer program.