Waiting for the space elevator
"I'm all for returning to the Moon, but I wonder if this plan is the way to do it. Or, for that matter, the best investment of $100 billion toward spaceflight over the next 12 years.(And if you've missed recent TCS columns on space elevators, including the now classic one focusing on upcoming issues in space elevator law, I've got links here and here. Read on.)
The problem is that this NASA approach looks like more of the same. Oh, it's better than some earlier efforts: The program emphasizes astronauts learning to "live off the land" via lunar resources, an approach that seemed quite radical back when Bob Zubrin was first championing it. But the technology looks old -- and not "proven reliable," as Space Shuttle components have been less than ideal -- and I don't see any way this program will deliver what we need most: High flight rates and low costs.
I wonder, then, if the money wouldn't be better spent on things that have a higher likelihood of delivering those, like space elevators. As I mentioned in an earlier column, space elevator technology promises drastically reduced costs to orbit (from which, as Robert Heinlein famously observed, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system in terms of energy) and it looks as if we could build a working space elevator -- or several -- within the $100 billion pricetag and over the same time frame."
Meanwhile, over at Slahdot, an ongoing thread on NASA's new shuttle has kicked up some commentary on space elevators, including logistics, Lagrange points and Earth v. Moon based elevators. And this comment: "It's a long trip in an elevator and the muzak will drive you crazy."
Never fear. The professor, who is also a musician, owns a record company.