The idea first came from Arthur C Clarke's 1979 novel 'Fountains of Paradise', which describes the construction of an elevator into space that orbits the Earth. Now, according to the Times Online
, a team of British scientists at Cambridge University has taken the very first step into making this Sci-Fi fantasy a reality. The challenge is that a conventional cable that is one strand thick on Earth would need to be about as wide as the entire planet just to support its own weight once it reached the stars at 22,000 miles high. The Cambridge team has found a potential solution to this problem using a $4m (Â£2.7m) research prize from NASA. They have developed the world's strongest ribbon: a cylindrical strand of carbon that combines lightweight flexibility with great strength and the potential to stretch immense distances. Space scientists believe that this discovery will enable astronauts to travel into space via a cable thousands of miles long, thus creating, The Space Elevator. The team makes approximately 1gram of the brilliant material per day, which is enough to stretch up to 18 miles in length. They have an order from NASA asking for 144,000 miles of the ribbon. Enthusiasts say that the space elevator will be able to lift material more than 22,000 miles into orbit for as little as Â£300 per pound weight, comparing this with Â£14,000 per pound using existing rockets, it's a bargain!The concept is the cable is extended up to a station 22,245 miles (the point at which satellites stay in geostationary orbit) into space and is kept under tension by the forces of gravity on Earth and the acceleration at the platform end. The cable will then extend a further 40,000 miles into space with a counterweight that helps keep the whole structure stable allowing the elevator to be powered up the cable, much like a train on its tracks.This will no doubt revolutionise space travel. An elevator like this could offer cheap space travel and make touring to Mars more viable. This also could mean a space hotel in orbit of the Earth and no can say the views will not be breathtaking!I wonder if it will dent Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic
plans? His airline space craft has been invented and designed especially for travel into space with a journey time of approximately 2 and a half hours but has a price tag the size of a small house.The plan is not without challenges. Notably, the best performance of a scale model of this idea has only achieved 1.8 metres per second on a 100m climb. A contest is currently running within the NASA Headquarters to build a prototype elevator that can travel vertically 1km (0.6 miles) at a speed of 2 metres per second. The next challenge is scheduled for April. This is a very exciting concept as maybe sometime down the line in the near future, Auto Europe will be doing Space Rentals!