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An elevator from Earth to space may look something like this.
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Courtesy of NASA

Elevator to Space!
News story originally written on October 15, 2000

Next year, Americans will watch ordinary people compete for a chance to go into space. The lucky winner will stay aboard the Space Station Mir. But what if you and your family could visit space anytime you wanted? Scientists are hoping to make this dream a reality.

In the 1970's a physicist named Jerome Pearson imagined an elevator that a person could take to space. At that time, it was tough to find any support, but NASA is now working on this so-called impossible dream. You may take a vacation to space, in 50 years or so.

Scientists admit it may take a life time before this elevator is actually built. But for the first time, NASA outlined a concept for the elevator. A strong, extremely long cable will stretch from Earth to geosynchronous orbit. At this distance from space, an object will orbit the Earth at the exact same speed as the Earth revolves. In other words, the object will stay at the same spot above Earth.

With a large asteroid tied to the other end, this cable will be the connection for an elevator to reach the skies. The problem is, we have yet to discover a substance strong enough for the cable. Oh - and the twenty mile high tower on Earth is a problem as well. Even still, it can't help to dream!

“The idea is to work on intermediate concepts and then in 50 years we’ll hopefully start working on building this thing,” says David Smitherman, a scientist working in the Advanced Projects office of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Well, it's a start, at least.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA