I’m a kinda-sorta advocate of space exploration because I realize that the technology goes far beyond the intended purpose. Figure out a way to send a robot probe to a distant planet and you also have come up with hundreds of new applications that can be used right here on the Big Blue Marble. It is in this that people dedicated to space travel and myself agree.
True blue space enthusiasts lose me when they try to make the case for a permanent human presence in space. It would cost far too much with the technology we have available, and they have never been able to come up with any benefit to justify the effort that makes any sense to me. A lot of them insist that it is something we have to do, though.
One of our fellow Boyz, Steven den Beste of Chizumatic fame, gave me some insight into their motivation.
Chizumatic is where Steven discusses anime, and he recently posted some thoughts on a series where teenage girls are recruited for a space program. It is there that Steven points out that, for some people, space travel is a religion. That is why they have never been able to articulate any justification for the expense of manned space travel that I could appreciate. I was talking to people who have their temples in the sky.
The cost of flinging mass into orbit and beyond is a non-trivial problem that brings even the space enthusiasts up short. They say we can get around that by building a space elevator, which is a tower more than 60,000 miles high. Last time I checked, that is about two and a half times the circumference of the Earth.
This actually is something that interests me, not because I think it is even remotely possible, but because I am intrigued by the Earthly applications if some of the basic engineering puzzles are solved. The very first problem before anyone can even think of building this stairway to heaven is coming up with a material that is strong and light enough to hold together under the stresses that such a structure would constantly experience.
What could we do with such material? I have visions of bullet proof T-shirts dancing in my head. Main battle tanks that weigh as much as the family car, even though they can withstand point-blank armor piercing cannon fire. And what about the family car? Build the body of your common SUV out of such material and it would withstand even the most extreme road accident without any ill effects. Body shops would go bankrupt.
But such an adamantine substance is clearly impossible, Wolverine’s skeleton notwithstanding. It is so ridiculous that I am rather reluctant to even bring it up, particularly since the people who talk about space elevators pretty much assume that we are only a few years away from the development of such a substance. One of us is way off base, but which?
So I wrote an Email to Steven, asking him about this magical material. I was hoping that he could give me a baseline of local applications to work with. If we see, I dunno, car tires that are rated for 2 million miles before they begin to wear out, then we would know that we finally had something strong enough to build the beanstalk.
He was kind enough to reply, for which I am very grateful. Unfortunately, he found other issues to be more interesting to discuss then how something sturdy enough for a space elevator would change our lives down here at the bottom of the gravity well.
So I suppose I’ll just have to hold out for bullet proof underwear. If Fruit-of-the-Loom comes out with Level II-A protection on their tighty-whiteys, then the space elevator advocates can talk. Until then they are just wasting my time.