How exciting would it be to be able to go to the moon, especially if you didn’t have to travel in a rocket? Imagine having an escalator or elevator that took you straight there. Just step into the chamber and let the elevator transport you. Well, that concept is closer to a reality than you may think. Scientists have predicted we will be able to do just that as early as 2050. NASA, along with space agencies in China and Japan, have been working on this idea for years. In fact, in 1959, Russian engineer Yuri Artsutanov proposed the first concept.
How it Would Work
The actual idea is simple, but carrying it out isn’t quite as easy. The elevator would have to be durable enough to sustain atmospheric pressure, which we already have the technology to accomplish. A cable would be stretched from a satellite above the high Earth orbit, known as the geosynchronous orbit, and then attached to a floating anchor station at the equator, and then the elevator would be able to travel back and forth from the Earth to a space station.
Another theory would have the cable running directly from the moon down toward the Earth, and then hang in the geosynchronous orbit, which is 22,236 miles above the surface. This idea was produced from a study by Zephyr Penoyre from the University of Cambridge and Emily Sandford at Columbia University. They even say we have the technology for this today; to make the first theory work, scientists and engineers would still have to devise a strong enough cable to support the elevator.
The elevator would make it easier for more people to go to the moon. Astronauts traveling to the moon wouldn’t have to wait years for a rocket to take them. Scientists and geologists could gain samples to study and learn more about the planet. Minerals and other metals could be mined and used back on Earth. It could also mean similar elevators could be used to take us to other planets. Imagine if we could visit the rings of Saturn!
Problems with the Elevator
While the idea of taking an elevator to the moon is exciting, there are still some problems that would need to be worked out before it can become a reality. Michael Laine, the founder of LiftPort Group, worked at the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) from 2001 to 2003. He said, “Mathematically, the Earth elevator concept models very nicely. The problem is that in the actual real world there are still a lot of problems with it.”
One of the biggest hurdles is the geosynchronous orbit, which is a high Earth orbit. This area allows the satellites to match our planet’s rotation. This is the perfect position for satellites to monitor weather, communications, and surveillance. Not only would these cables need to be strong enough to support the weight of the elevator and cargo, they would also need to be able to dodge the many satellites and other space debris gliding around. Laine said:
“When [NIAC investigator] Dr. Bradley Edwards and I were doing this work nearly 20 years ago, there were only 350 satellites. We now have about 1,500 satellites – 400 were launched last year alone and we’re moving to a world where there’s going to be possibly 17,000 satellites, most of them in Low Earth orbit. So the idea of having the string dodge 17,000 objects is really challenging. I’m not sure that that works anymore.”