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Punch Troposphere for Me

November 09, 2003

Please do not worry. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are on top of this idea of building an elevator 62,000 miles into space. The goal: cheap space launches.

These engineers -- may Isaac Newton bless their unharnessed imaginations -- are designing this gargantuan gadget on their own time. Yes, yes, the sun can be very strong in New Mexico. But they say this elevator could lift heavy equipment and obese Americans into space more safely and cheaply than costly systems involving volatile fuels that like to burn explosively in thundering rockets the size of a senator's ego.

Bryan Laubscher and his colleagues believe that the first country to build such an elevator controls space. It'll certainly have a jump on the contract for the next Trump Tower. Think of the cables for this thing.

Imagine waiting for this baby in the future. You push the little lighted Up arrow and the overhead dial says 50, meaning the platform is only 50,000 miles up, twice the Earth's circumference. No stairs that tall, so you might as well wait. They could station stationary bikes nearby to preserve muscle mass, booths to watch the music video of Madonna's ninth marriage and galactic lounges to grab a tube of lunch with an intravenous coffee bag because Starbucks prices are even worse in space.

Then, sometime, say, the following month the high-speed elevator arrives in the lobby, glowing red from reentry. The doors open and off-duty little green folk file out heading for P3 chattering about what their boss said last summer on Jupiter. You board and the questions start.

Who can memorize the Elevator Inspection Certificate within 9,000 miles? At what level of the stratosphere will two elevator passengers first make eye contact? Will the rest stops be scheduled or on-demand? Can anyone be thrown off for answering a cellphone and saying "Hello!" 15 times? How will gravity-free passengers divvy elevator space equally when floating around like the Michellin man? What if some kid punches the buttons for every floor?

So loose ends do remain. But just think how silly engineers surely sounded that day some 170 years ago when they proposed digging up every street in every city to lay pipes to every dwelling, its sinks, ceilings and a place called the toilet, to deliver clean water for flushing, drinking and firefighting. And their ensuing idea to lay wire mazes that would allow everyone to talk with anyone in the country. That and deliver last spring's movies, high-speed spam and "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Clearly, nothing like an elevator into space will ever work.

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