For over half a century, that is how all astronauts have gone into space. It’s all very dramatic, but it’s also expensive. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to take the elevator? That’s the question that Michael Laine, CEO of LiftPort in Seattle, Washington, hopes to answer with the development of a transportation system that swaps space-rockets for space-ribbons.
Rockets have done sterling service in launching satellites and astronauts into orbit. The trouble is, they’re inefficient and therefore expensive. Putting a payload into orbit means that the rocket must not only lift the payload, it has to carry the payload, the fuel to lift it and the rocket, the fuel to lift the fuel, the rocket and the payload, the fuel to lift all that and so on. The space elevator is based on the idea of cutting out the middleman and just lifting the payload. It does this by way of a tower of mind-boggling height – from sea level at the equator, clear up to geosynchronous orbit 35,800 kilometers (22,238 mi) up with an elevator for going up and down it like it was the Seattle Space Needle.
The idea even predates liquid-fueled rockets. It was first proposed by Russian space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, he had the idea of building what came to be known as the “Tsiolkovsky Tower.”