My good friend, Tom, has had a thing about space travel. This is nothing new …. he has had the bug for years. I cannot say my enthusiasm is at his level, but I certainly understand it.
For the past few years, he has been working with a company, LaserMotive out in Seattle, and they have been working on a problem that seems a little outlandish to some people: begin the process of building an elevator to space.
I know the image that comes to mind … a vision of a normal elevator disappearing into the clouds and opening up somewhere in orbit …. hope you were wearing a spacesuit.
It seems outlandish, even as science fiction goes (and space elevators have populated science fiction). Yet, how many ideas from science fiction of the past later became reality (note: there is a reason why most cell phones open the same way Star Trek style communicators do … their inventor was inspired by the show).
So, this week, after months of delays, LaserMotive finally got to test their mettle at the NASA sponsored Space Elevator Games held out at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of California (the same place where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and where the earliest space shuttle missions landed).
The challenge: have a robot climb a cable 1 km long. Do it at an average speed of 2 m/s, you can share in a $900,00 payday. Do it at a speed exceeding 5 m/s, and you can share in an additional $1.1 million payout.
LaserMotive has had false starts in the past, but this time did not disappoint. They easily qualified for the $900,000 prize, and were the only one of the teams there to have a successful run.
The hope is that one day, robots such as these can help construct the “cable” that would serve as the “elevator cable” for a space elevator, significantly reducing the cost needed to launch payloads into space.
Congrats to LaserMotive for taking a small step forward into unknown territory.
Here is video of the first run … sorry, no explosions or ray guns … just a little bit of history.