A stairway to heaven is so 20th century. Japan wants to build an elevator.
Later this month, researchers at Shizuoka University will begin testing for a “space elevator,” which would connect earth and a space station by cable. In the future, this elevator could be used to transport people and cargo back and forth.
But there are still some major hurdles researchers must overcome before an elevator could begin test runs. According to Smithsonian, there is no cable in the world that is strong enough to withstand the forces of gravity and the harsh winds of the upper atmosphere. And nobody yet knows how cable movement would work in zero gravity — but we might gain a better understanding later this month.
The first test will entail a rocket launch from the Japanese island of Tanegashima. Once in space, a miniature elevator box — about 2.4 inches long — will move along a 32-foot cable between two satellites. "It's going to be the world's first experiment to test elevator movement in space," a university spokesman told AFP earlier this week.
The idea of an elevator to space was first proposed back in 1895 by a Russian scientist named Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. But it wasn’t until the 1960s, when Russian engineer Yuri Artsutanov investigated the real-life challenges around such a link, that anybody began to take the idea seriously.
Despite the fact that tests haven’t yet begun, a Japanese corporation has already issued a proposal for the space elevator. In their concept, the Obayashi Corporation envisions almost 60,000 miles of cable that would connect a station floating in the sea to a satellite orbiting the planet. The trip would take approximately eight days to complete via cable car. There’s a “realistic” timeline of completion by 2050, according to the corporation.
If the space elevator were ever to become reality, it would likely be tethered somewhere along the equator, where earthquakes and tornadoes are unlikely.