An Elevator to Space?

  • Posted 01.01.07
  • NOVA scienceNOW

The entrepreneurs and engineers at LiftPort Group in Bremerton, Washington think space elevators aren't just a wild idea. Indeed, they've staked their corporation on the concept. In this video, join Neil deGrasse Tyson for a hands-on look at LiftPort's efforts.

Running Time: 02:36


An Elevator to Space?

Posted: January 1, 2007

JOE MCMASTER: When we were research ideas for new segments we came across an idea that was just irresistible to us. And that was that NASA was sponsoring a competition to see if someone could build a working prototype of a space elevator, which is sort of a machine that would crawl up an enormously long and strong cable into outer space.

Given that our host Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and it is just such an interesting and appealing idea, we just had to go for it.

Most of the teams in NASA's competition thought that a real space elevator wouldn't be built for decades, but we also came across a company near Seattle that actually claimed they could build one in the near future. So here is what Neil and I discovered when we visited them.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: So what is this contraption?

TOM NUGENT: This is an lifter robot. It is prototype of technology to climb a space elevator ribbon.


TOM NUGENT: To space.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: How far has this climbed so far?

TOM NUGENT: This has climbed 1500 feet.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: That is not space.

TOM NUGENT: That is not, but it is the first baby step to get there.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: So how far away are we from realizing this dream?

MICHAEL LAINE: We think that there is going to be some version of this system within the next 15 years.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Wait, wait. A version to 22,000 miles, you think?

MICHAEL LAINE: There will be something


MICHAEL LAINE: With in the next 15 years.



NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: What are these?

TOM NUGENT: Those are batteries.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: So suppose you're half way into space and the batteries die. That is a bad situation to be in, so what do you do?

TOM NUGENT: You won't have batteries in the first place. When we're climbing 150 feet, a battery is fine.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Up the side of a building.

TOM NUGENT: Right. Climbing to space it is not economical to carry your batteries with you.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Particularly just velcroed to the side.

TOM NUGENT: That's right.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: So can you show me how it works?

TOM NUGENT: I think so, let's do it.


MAN: Power to the engine.

TOM NUGENT: Full speed ahead.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: If someone is going to be on an elevator and have to travel 22,000 miles, a pre-requisite should be that they don't get old and die before they get to the platform. So how long do you see this trip taking?

MICHAEL LAINE: It will be about a week.


MICHAEL LAINE: Right. So you're going to be—

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: So the trip itself is a vacation.

MICHAEL LAINE: Oh, absolutely.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: So here it comes. Looking healthy. Can I get the first ride?


NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Congratulations.

MICHAEL LAINE: Thanks a lot.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Just a few decades ago, putting men on the moon sounded just as outrageous as a space elevators sound today. When it comes to the space elevator, we should probably never say never, but I am still a bit skeptical.


Production Credits

Produced for NOVA scienceNOW by
Joe McMaster
© WGBH Educational Foundation

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