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Unsolicited Political Advice
Posted by: Dale Franks on Tuesday, March 14, 2006

James Miller, writing at TechCentralStation, unveils his brilliant plan for Republicans to dominate the upcoming elections:
For the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans should propose an idea so big that it stretches to the stars. Republicans should commit the government to building a space elevator by 2020...

I admit it: part of the reason I want Republicans to make space elevators part of their 2006 campaign is that I am a Republican and fear that otherwise we will lose considerable power in the midterm elections. A space elevator proposal would be visionary, pro-defense, pro-environment and easy to understand, so it could attract significant support for Republicans.

It would be difficult for Democrats to enthusiastically support a space elevator proposal. The left-wing environmentalists view the threat of global warming primarily as a means of combating capitalism, and they would be horrified by any proposal that could reduce the harm of global warming without curbing commerce.

The Democrats would be uncomfortable with the militarization of space that U.S.-owned space elevators would allow. They would undoubtedly prefer that space elevators be built not by the U.S. but by some international coalition. Such Democratic opposition to a U.S. space elevator would allow Republicans to portray Democrats as being not only weak on defense but also hypocritical on the environment.

I try to keep up with politics as best I can, and, I haven't seen too many signs that the voters are really hungering for is a cool space elevator. I just haven't heard anyone say something like, "Man, if only one of the parties would propose building a space elevator. I tell you, they'd get my vote!"

Don't get me wrong. The whole space elevator deal is super neato and all, but I'm a little skeptical that catering to the "pro-space elevator" vote is the solution to the Republicans' electoral vulnerability.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

You FOOL, laugh at me NOW, but when the Space Elevator is constructed and I am ELECTORAL KING OF AMERICA, then you shall rue the day that you belittled my plan for Republican dominance via the Space Elevator! Oh there will weeping and wailing and the gnashing of Democrat and Libertarian teeth THAT day! But it will too late as I hurl you screaming into the electoral, and quite literal Void, my laughter ringing in your ears!

Ok, actually I never really thought that the Space Elevator was the way to achieve electoral success, but I lacked a blog to point it out....
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Yeah, I want to see the environmental study done showing how much damage will occur if it comes ’down’ after some luddites take it out.
If you think a nuke powerplant is an environmental danger you haven’t looked at the physics involved when that much material stacked that high up suddenly turns kenetic as it comes back down.

Never gonna happen because of the cost and the ’danger’. Cripes we just finished getting into a lather over the idea that Achmed and his sultan’s guard were going to show up with their scimitars and guard our ports, imagine the terror the Dem’s could cause painting the ’disaster’ lurking in the fall of a couple mountain’s worth of material from orbit onto the Midwest (Red States hopefully).

Plus I would think the best spot would not be anywhere in the continental United States anyway, from a construction standpoint.
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Plus I would think the best spot would not be anywhere in the continental United States anyway, from a construction standpoint.
No, an equatorial site would be much better.
Written By: Dale Franks
"I haven’t seen too many signs that the voters are really hungering for is a cool space elevator."
So in the 60’s the electorate was hungering to spend the dough to send a couple of guys to the moon?

I’m guessing when this sort of thing happens, it will be a private venture anyway.
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
While I do not have any idea about this particular project. I DO believe in the doctrine of "big Projects". It does go against some of my libertarian beliefs, but I think that every government should have at least one big project going at all times. These generaly benifit science, technology, national pride, national cohesion, and intangibles.
Past projects include Transcontinental Railroad (done by private companies but subsidised by the governemt). Panama Canal, Hoover Dam and the TVA, the Manhatten Project, The interstate highway system, and the moon race.
The projects should have some intrinsic benifits of their own, but even those which do not, such as the moonrace, have spin off benifits.
Written By: kyle N
So in the 60’s the electorate was hungering to spend the dough to send a couple of guys to the moon?
Well, yeah, axtually, they were. The American public freaked out after Sputnik. LBJ stood in the well of the Senate and declared, "I, for one, do not want to go to bed by the light of a communist moon!"

So, yeah, im many ways, and for a number of reasons, including fear of the Sovs, the electorate was keen to send people to the moon.
Written By: Dale Franks
Yeah, I want to see the environmental study done showing how much damage will occur if it comes ’down’ after some luddites take it out.
If you think a nuke powerplant is an environmental danger you haven’t looked at the physics involved when that much material stacked that high up suddenly turns kenetic as it comes back down.
As a start, what do you think would be keeping it "up"? Do you fear the Luddites bringing down the Moon or even the International Space Station?
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
I suggest the Mission to Mars strategy...announce the program before the election to get the space nerd vote, and then quietly cancel it after the votings done.

Though a space elevator is a really good idea. BTW, if it did fall from the sky most of it would burn up harmlessly.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
(The cord part.)
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Never gonna happen because of the cost and the ’danger’.
That brings up a good question: exactly how do you defend the cord against sabatoge? It seems like it’d be a prime target for attacks, and what do you do if a crank/enemy/terrorist clipped the line a mile or three up? Maybe I’m just unfamiliar with existing defense ideas, but it seems like it’d be a tough target to defend.
Written By: Jon Henke
Maybe I’m just unfamiliar with existing defense ideas, but it seems like it’d be a tough target to defend.
Jon it’s a tough target to hit, too....
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
No, an equatorial site would be much better.
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
You don’t have to hit it if you’re ’in it’ when you detonate. obviously going to have to be a more than ordinary explosion, given the cable strength.

What keeps it up? "It’s" in high enough orbit where it’s keeping itself up, obviously if it has a cord connecting it to, say some mountain in Kenya or Ecuador then that part isn’t in ’orbit’.

I don’t worry about the moon coming down - I’d like to see you move that mass.
The space station, they have to get to to bring down using sabotage or attack, either way they have to get to it and screw with it’s orbit.

An elevator into orbit obviously has a ground floor that is, well, on the ground eh? And a cable that connects it to the platform in orbit eh? So, they attack the cable, sever it, and gravity does the rest.

Not sure though how much mass the cable would have - probably less than I was originally thinking - hence less damage if it comes down, but I guess it depends on how it’s all built doesn’t it (and since it’s a’s a bit much to say I know how it will be built).
Written By: looker
URL: http://
but it is 62000 miles of cable.....whatever it’s made out of.....
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Regarding what, if anything, would fall down if the cable was cut...
Cut near the anchor point

If the elevator is cut at its anchor point on Earth’s surface, the outward force exerted by the counterweight would cause the entire elevator to rise upward into a stable orbit. This is because a space elevator must be kept in tension, with greater centrifugal force pulling outward than gravitational force pulling inward, or any additional payload added at the elevator’s bottom end would pull the entire structure down.

The ultimate altitude of the severed lower end of the cable would depend on the details of the elevator’s mass distribution. In theory, the loose end might be secured and fastened down again. This would be an extremely tricky operation, however, requiring careful adjustment of the cable’s center of gravity to bring the cable back down to the surface again at just the right location. It may prove to be easier to build a new system in such a situation.
Cut at about 25,000 km

If the break occurred at higher altitude, up to about 25,000 km, the lower portion of the elevator would descend to Earth and drape itself along the equator east of the anchor point, while the now unbalanced upper portion would rise to a higher orbit. Some authors (such as science fiction writers David Gerrold in Jumping off the Planet and Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars) have suggested that such a failure would be catastrophic, with the thousands of kilometers of falling cable creating a swath of meteoric destruction along Earth’s surface. However, in most cable designs, the upper portion of any cable that fell to Earth would burn up in the atmosphere. Additionally because proposed initial cables (the only ones likely to be broken) have very low mass (roughly 1 kg per kilometer) and are flat, the bottom portion would likely settle to Earth with less force than a sheet of paper due to air resistance on the way down.

If the break occurred at the counterweight side of the elevator the lower portion, now including the "central station" of the elevator would entirely fall down if not prevented by an early self-destruct of the cable shortly below it. Depending on the size however it would burn up on reentry anyway.
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Granted even if the elevator object was the size of a 747 not that much damage potential then...and since I was using the ’elevator’ as my delivery mechanism for any explosive device....there’s really not much left of that I suppose....

Oh darn.
I’ll still believe a cable that light and that strong when I see it...if I’d take my medication I suppose I might live long enough to see that happen though.

As for the proposal of how they’re going to build it, what they propose, and what the actual cable might be made out of, can be entirely different things eh?
I can ’propose’ they don’t need to build it at all because they’ll be able to beam objects up into space using the ’transporter’. It’s easy to answer damage potential concerns by saying ’we’re using materials that don’t cause any damage’.
What sane person would suggest that the materials, if they fall, will cause massive destruction for half a globe circumference and expect that people will say, "well! Okay! Build it!".

Interesting concept though, I mean the elevator, isn’t it?
First that, then on to build a Dyson Sphere out of Jupiter.
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Actually, I probably WOULD vote for anyone who made this a central issue Rep or Dem :)
Written By: shark
URL: http://
"...counterweight would cause the entire elevator to rise upward into a stable orbit."
My physics is quite rusty, but I seem to remember that if your outward force exceeds gravity, you have achieved escape velocity. If the cable structure breaks, the orbiting portion loses mass, which decreases the force attracting it towards the earth. As it moves outward, the increasing distance further decreases the attractive force. This imbalance is not self-correcting; there must be an ouside force to restore a stable equilibrium. Meanwhile, the changing altitude will also cause lateral movement, another problem.

"Additionally because proposed initial cables (the only ones likely to be broken) have very low mass (roughly 1 kg per kilometer) and are flat,..."

"Man proposes, God disposes". What marvelous material is this cable composed of? At any rate, more than just a cable is required. This is not just throwing a cable over a pulley and hoisting. There needs to be some sort of rigididy in the structure, as we can’t just have it flapping in the rather considerable breezes that will be encountered. There must also be some sort of structure to keep the counterweight(assuming there is one) and the cargo cables from tangling, and to prevent vibration and movement from aerodynamic and resonance forces. Torsion must also be prevented. Then there are the mundane requirements for inspection and maintainence of the cable and other structures. Even if such miraculous cable material were discovered, the figure of 1 kg/km would be ridiculously low for the entire structure.
Were I not too lazy to actually open a book and research this, I am sure I could find even more arguments against the practicality of this thing, not even including the economic factors.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Tech note
WARNING; boring and unnecessary verbiage follows!(it’s 5 AM and I can’t sleep)

The equation for mutual gravitational attractive force is, to the best of my recollection,

g=gravitational constant.
M,m= the respective masses of two objects.
r=distance between the centers of mass.
Since the masses are in the numerator, any increase/decrease of one of the masses, for any reason including normal operation, will cause a change in the attractive force, thus destroying equilibrium. The same holds for changes in distance.
Thus, any decrease in the mass of the elevator structure will cause the numerator to decrease, reducing the attractive force. Less attractive force means that outward force is no longer balanced by inward force, so the orbital structure moves away from the earth. This movement increases the distance(squared) in the denominator, further decreasing the attractive force. And so on, ad infinitum, unless some exterior force is applied. This is not an inherently stable system. Constant monitoring and balancing will be required, even disallowing atmospheric and other effects.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Tim, your physics is indeed rusty. There is no outward force. None! Just like there is none on a satellite - which is what this would be. A satellite we tied down with a thin ribbon of carbon nanotubes to produce artificially high speed, which would provide simulated gravity like in the amusement park rides like Gravitron.

The space elevator structure is designed to move at a speed greater than stable orbit at the distance it is placed - like spinning around with a heavy weight held in to your chest, vs. held out at arms length. Holding it in close is harder.

This means that the ribbon (not cable) would remain taut, and a couple of miles of our atmosphere would have essentially no effect on a 62,000 mile cord. If the ribbon were somehow snapped, the upper platform would be moving too fast to stay as close as it had been, but too slow to reach escape velocity - it would reach a stable elliptical orbit farther out. The difference between orbital speed and escape speed is roughly 3 km/s - a relatively big window in speed.

The changing altitude would also cause lateral movement, you are definitely right about that. In fact, it would go from geosynchronous orbit to non, and it would ruin the simulated gravity on board the platform. It has been suggested that replacing the ribbon would be no more difficult than putting in the first one, but that seems a little optimistic to me.

There are a lot of sites out there on this topic. I like this one:

But even as a physicist who gets excited just reading about this thing, I don’t think this is a viable goal. There are two huge political hinderances to it.

1) There are no baby steps. It’s not like when we put up a satellite, then a dog, then a man, then a man for longer, etc. The first space elevator will be a SPACE ELEVATOR. It sounds too sci-fi for people to believe it can be done. They’ll want to see proof it can be done. The proof would be... um... to build one. Tough issue for a government. As Dale notes, nobody is clamoring for this to be done, and we all know that the politicians run on polls.

2) More importantly, there is the security issue. Especially since this would work best at the equator, and every mile away from there causes issues. Sit the scientists down and ask them how to protect the ribbon, and their faces freeze. It will be very old technology by the time it could ever be implemented, in my opinion.
Written By: Wulf

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