Have you ever been afraid of being trapped inside an elevator?
It’s a fear we’ve seen played out in countless movies. The power goes out and suddenly the claustrophobic guy in the elevator begins hyperventilating. Or there’s a pregnant woman whose water breaks. Or the police shut it down thinking they’ve trapped Hannibal Lecter, only to discover that the body on top of the elevator is actually a dead cop whose face Lecter ripped off and wore to escape captivity.
Now imagine any one of those horrible scenarios playing out … in space.
That’s right, space – the final frontier. A mysterious black void filled with aliens, predators and Alfs.
If certain scientists have their way, you won’t need a rocket ship to explore the outer reaches of the universe, all you will have to do is climb in an elevator and wait for it to reach your space floor (while hoping that some jerk doesn’t come along and press all the other buttons). It may sound like a ridiculous idea, but it’s one that is actually being developed by top scientists, who envision a space elevator as a safer and more convenient alternative to spaceships.
“Space elevator-related research is valid, but there are hurdles to overcome,” said David Smitherman, a space architect at NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.
I would imagine one of those hurdles is that in space, no one can hear you scream, which means when the elevator inevitably does break down and you are stuck inside it with a pregnant woman and a hyperventilating guy somewhere around Neptune, the technicians will have no idea that you are stranded up there.
But don’t worry; being trapped in space shouldn’t be your biggest concern. What you should really worry about is the cable that lifts you up into space snapping midway through the trip, since currently there is no material strong enough to support the weight of a heavy load of space travelers.
“Right now, if you use the strongest material in the world, the weight of the tether would be so much that it would actually snap,” said Ted Semon, spokesman for The Spaceward Foundation, which runs a competition offering $2 million to anyone who can create a viable space elevator prototype. Semon believes the material needed to make a 22,000 mile cable tethered to a satellite orbiting Earth would have to be 25 times stronger than anything currently commercially available.
Maintenance problems and cable snapping aside, there is still another major problem facing the proposed space elevator – namely, all of the meteorites and space junk currently floating around out there. So if you weren’t already panicked enough, you can have the added drama of watching your little elevator tube be pelted by meteorites and all of the shit we’ve left out in space during launches, like cast-off pieces of old spaceships and empty Tang containers.
Oh, and then there’s the small issue of the cost of building this space elevator, which some estimate could be as much as $20 billion. I have no doubt that the cost will be passed along to the consumer, meaning anyone actually foolish enough to pay for the “privilege” of traveling into space in the most horrifying and uncomfortable way possible will get charged a hefty sum to do so.
It really makes you wonder what the hell these people are thinking. These days, more than any other time in history, it seems like scientists are building things just because they sound cool. They read about space elevators or self-aware robots or particle colliders in science fiction stories growing up, so they’ve convinced themselves that we should have these things in real life. Yet I would think anyone with common sense would realize how incredibly ridiculous these idea actually sounds. There are large apartment buildings in major cities that can’t keep their elevators running consistently – why the hell would I believe a space elevator would be any more reliable?
And if you are going to just build shit from science fiction – why not begin work on flying cars or hoverboards? If you really think that working on these types of nerdy projects are more important than curing cancer or solving world hunger, at least build me a fucking lightsaber. Sure, the lightsaber will probably kill me just as quickly as the space elevator, but at least getting impaled by one of them will be a much cooler story to tell in the afterlife than “my space elevator was hit by a big rock.”
Besides, you are trying to fix something that isn’t broken. We already have a way to go into space – spaceships. If you think they aren’t reliable enough or burn too much fuel or whatever, then work on building better spaceships. Actually, you know what? You don’t need to – Sir Richard Branson, the coolest billionaire on the planet, already beat you to it.
Today, Branson’s Virgin Galactic will unveil their new privately-funded spacecraft, which has been secretly under construction for five years. SpaceShipTwo has been developed as a commercial spaceship capable of taking regular people (with large disposable incomes) on a fantastic voyage into space.
Given the choice between cramming in a tiny little space elevator with the unwashed masses and visiting Pluto inside a luxury spacecraft that allows me to sip champagne and watch movies in first class sitting next to Mariah Carey, I think I’ll choose the latter. At least when those empty Tang containers collide with the ship and kill us all, we’ll die in style.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.