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Question Your World: Why Should We Make a Lunar Elevator?

Living on the top floor of a building gives one the opportunity to truly appreciate the modern wonders of science, specifically the elevator. This transportation lift makes it a lot easier to reach higher and taller destinations. Scientists have recently been considering putting the same thinking towards our closest celestial neighbor. So, why should we make a lunar elevator? Find out in this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia.

As our technological capabilities increase the bounds of scientific exploration get pushed further out and sometimes the sky is the limit, literally. Michael Laine and his team of scientists at LiftPort, a private company based out of Washington state, are proposing plans for a space elevator on the lunar surface. According to Laine and company this can be made entirely with existing technology. The group's objective is to create a process by which to get cargo from the lunar surface to us more easily and certainly more frequently.

By using gravity, centrifugal force, and lagrange orbital points the lunar elevator would have one part secured to the moon's surface and the other end tethered out in space. The two ends would be connected by a robotic crawler which would act like the elevator pod moving to and from the lunar surface. Once built the idea is this would create a situation where cargo from the lunar surface could be hoist up the elevator cables to a point in space where spacecraft from Earth could rendezvous and bring the materials back home with relative ease. The purpose of this elevator is to drastically reduce costs due to large rockets and massive amounts of fuel.

The goal of this $800 million project is to encourage more space exploration, facilitate a more efficient system for lunar research, and to ultimately have a similar elevator built here on Earth. The concept of a space elevator is not new, but this is one of the first attempts in which the funding seems to be feasible. The team started a kickstarter for this project in hopes to raise $8,000 to begin testing. Interest in this project seemed to be clearly present as the group has now exceeded their initial goal by over $5,000. This initial fund raising is to test a robotic crawler on a tethered cable about a mile and change up into the atmosphere. The testing on Earth will yield many results that will hopefully be implemented eventually on the lunar surface. However, for now they still need to tackle the many issues regarding structural stability, more development of carbon fiber nano tubes, and of course working out procedures on how to deal with close talkers that just want to make small talk all the way up. Obviously, much more work lays ahead of the LiftPort team.

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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