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Jonathan Davis

So what is so pragmatistic about being Jonathan Davis?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Space Elevator

There is a group of science minds working on creating an elevator to space. While it sounds really cool, I can't help but laugh...

The elevator would work by running on a 62,000 mile long "ribbon" of Carbon Nanotubes. In addition to its length, the ribbon would be 3 feet wide and thinner than a sheet of paper. It sounds like a really awesome idea, but I can't help seeing a few major holes.
First, NASA is spending $11 million over the next four years, just to create a carbon nanotube "wire" 1 meter long. Additionally, with the current means of creating carbon nanotubes, only 2% of the nanotubes created can actually be used. Granted, technology keeps making developments, and this year’s super technology is next year’s common household item, so I won't harp on this one.

Let's look at the math behind the science...Assuming a ribbon 3' wide, 62,000 miles long (327,360,000 feet), and .0032 inches thick (.000267 feet) which is the thickness of 16 lb. (very thin) paper. The project would require over 262,215 cubic feet of Carbon Nanotubes, weighing over 35,129,049 pounds. I think those numbers speak for themselves...

Now, let's bury ourselves (me included) in physics for a second. It the earth spins at 1041 mph (it does, I checked) then the tip of a 62,000 mile ribbon would be spinning at over 17,265 miles per hour. This does not include the movement of the earth around the sun.

Someone with a physics or engineering degree...I could really use some help here... Considering that we have (theoretically) created a 62,000 mile lever weighing 35 million pounds, moving at 17,265 mph, what kind of forces are we exerting on this planet we call home?

What point am I trying to make? Just think of our world as a really big and fast merry-go-round and this space elevator as an adult trying to hang on to childhood memory (and his life).

Ok enough about the whole cantilever our planet into an unknown orbit thing... Let's now imagine that we have built this system, and everything is stable (planet rotation wise).

Another interesting characteristic of Carbon Nanotubes is their conductivity of heat and electricity. In fact, nanotubes are even better conductors of heat than diamonds (makes sense since they are both made of carbon), which are at least 2-3 times better at conducting heat than copper. Our atmosphere is about 375 miles thick, after which point the temperature slowly drops to -459 degrees Fahrenheit. The ribbon would act much like a heat pipe, sucking heat from inside our atmosphere out to space, cooling the environment directly around the ribbon considerably.

Someone with a science (meteorological) degree, I could use some help here as well…Consider the constant leaching of heat to outer space, and the cooling of the atmosphere around the ribbon, what are the possibilities we’re looking at here? If my guesses are right, the cooler air would be a magnet for atmospheric instabilities, causing common repetitive lightning storms. (Think non-moving cool air mass over the Pacific Ocean at the Equator.) Also, this begs to question, how much could this affect the earth’s climate over the life of the ribbon?

Ok, enough about the Space Elevator, my head is hurting so much from thinking about this, I can’t even craft a decent joke about the Tower of Babel.


At 4:08 AM, Blogger Kevin Cieslukowski said...


i'm not much for anything with "nano" in it but i'll give my thoughts!

interesting indeed. i would think a lever like that would slow the earth down.

it's one heck of a lightning rod though!

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Juno said...

Ahem. . . fourth floor please.


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