The hope of easy access to space sparks sky-high innovation.
More than 100 years ago, a Russian scientist floated the idea of a castle in space--it would be tied by a cable and hover miles above the earth in a geosynchronous orbit, so it would always be above the same spot. Scientists and science fiction fans were dazzled by the idea, especially when Arthur C. Clarke suggested a new twist in his 1979 novel, The Fountains of Paradise, in which humans build an elevator to space. Many scientists began thinking of the space elevator as a brilliant concept, but no one could figure out a practical way to make one.
Enter the invention of carbon nanotubes, a new material so strong that a single human hair-sized string is strong enough to lift a car. By 1999, Brad Edwards--formerly a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory--came up with a working design and published The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System.
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