The Technology of Prosthetic Gods – The Space Elevator

Imagine having to leap to the first floor landing in a single bound. You’d have to develop leg muscles wider than your body, or be born on Krypton. Thankfully we solved this problem with the staircase.

Our present methods of reaching orbit are expensive mainly because of the same basic issue – any payload needs to reach escape velocity to reach orbit. What if we could get to orbit in small series of small steps? What would a stairway to heaven look like?

Given materials strong enough we could construct a cable between Earth’s surface and an artificial satellite (a captured asteroid), and elevators could climb out of the gravity well. At present those materials do not exist in anything other than experimental form – the various configurations of carbon nanotubes are our best hope at present. Constructing a space elevator would have an enormous impact on the cost of reaching orbit – reducing the per kilo cost by as much as a factor of a hundred.

The imagery we picked for the cover of Prosthetic Gods is the immediately comprehensible cable climbing away from the Earth. However in order to support its own weight any material we know of will need to have an extended dewdrop shape that will only thin to a ribbon at its endpoints. There are other restrictions to do with placement – the best endpoint on Earth would be somewhere on the Equator, preferably on a seaborne mobile platform. Being away from the storm generating Hadley cells will allow it to avoid the additional stresses of violent storms.

This would be the sane and reasonable way to place an elevator endpoint. However there would be commercial and political pressures within the engineering bounds available. If the endpoint is controlled by a single nation, there would be enormous advantage to be gained. In the world of Prosthetic Gods there is a UN-controlled elevator sensibly placed at the equator – and an American corporate Elevator terminating at the mile-high city, Denver. Its apparently singular luck in avoiding disastrous storms is part of what drives the plot of Prosthetic Gods.

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