Astrophysicist Explains Why Traveling in a Space Elevator Is Possible


Plans underway for an elevator to space (Photo: Obayashi)

That time you got trapped in the elevator with the ex who lives in your building. Or that time you had to travel down 30 floors with a couple who was having a bitter argument. Or that time you just got stuck.

No matter how you describe “the longest elevator ride ever,” we guarantee this one would be even longer.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) website reports that Japanese construction firm Obayashi is planning to build an elevator to space. It would take you 59,000 miles up to an orbiting space station, and the ride takes a whole week.

Related: SPACESHIP SMACKDOWN: Space Balloon vs. Richard Branson’s Virgin SpaceShipTwo

It’s part of multiple efforts underway to make space the next hot tourist destination. And a lot of us could be around to to see it: Obayashi plans to have the space elevator done by the year 2050.

So is this stairway elevator to heaven feasible?

“It really is possible," Mike Shara, curator of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, tells Yahoo Travel.

The space elevator would consist of a robotic car powered by a magnetic motor. The car would travel up a futuristic cable made of superthin and superstrong carbon nanotubes that are almost a hundred times stronger than steel. Shara says that’s entirely doable. "I think in 20 years, we could have cables strong enough for a space elevator.”


Next stop on this elevator: space (Photo: Obayashi)

But Shara sees two potential pitfalls with the space elevator plan. One is all those pesky derelict satellites floating above the Earth.

“If you saw the movie ‘Gravity,’” you saw what happens when one satellite runs into another,“ Shara says. "Eventually satellites are going to run into [the space elevator]. It’s gonna make a hell of a mess.”

Shara’s second concern with the space elevator is its name; “Space Elevator,” he reasons, isn’t going to sound very sexy to the wealthy travelers who’d likely be the first passengers. “Call it a cruise ship,” he suggests, “luxuriously appointed with champagne and caviar.” Because these days, even rocket scientists fancy themselves branding experts.

But it is something we need to ask ourselves: If we’re going to travel to space, do we really want to do it in a week-long elevator ride? What if there’s that ex or arguing couple scenario? What if it gets stuck (being stuck 30,000 miles up would be even worse than getting stuck between the 10th and 11th floor)?

WATCH: What the Future of Transportation Look Like

And the most dreaded prospect of all: having to listen to a week’s worth of elevator music. One can only listen to so much “Girl From Impanema.”

So, would you ride a space elevator? Vote in our poll and sound off in our comments.

Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest.