The Ultimate Elevator ride

The Space Elevator has been a dream of scientists for centuries. A new design may finally make it a reality — at least, by the next century.

It’s hard to summon the will to build something nobody has ever seen. Science-fiction visionaries have done their damnedest to help us imagine it, from our old friend Kim Stanley Robinson to the late, legendary Arthur C. Clarke. It’s been 42 years since Clarke’s award-winning bestseller The Fountains of Paradise showed a Space Elevator being constructed during — you guessed it — the 22nd century.

Until this year, I would have said that timeline was too optimistic. But this year’s news has changed my mind, and now I think there’s a strong chance there are multiple elevators in the skies around your planet. Not only are China and Japan making tentative plans for Space Elevator construction, on and off Earth, but a new paper from an engineer at a Canadian university has outlined how we could build a Space Elevator using materials readily available in 2021.

All it takes is one crucial tweak to the traditional design: We don’t put the ground floor on the ground.

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