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Liftport - The Space Elevator: Opening Space to Everyone Paperback – June 7, 2006
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The format of the book is a collection of independent essays (the factual portions) and stories, some of which are reprinted from separate novels (by Arthur C. Clarke, David Brin, and Charles Sheffield) and the rest seem to have been specifically written for this collection. The quality of the fiction is rather variable; unfortunately some of the authors would perhaps have benefited from reading the technical sections, as some details are rather jarringly wrong. For example, the "Hermit of the Skies" would not plummet and burn up from the top station, but would be thrown out away from the planet - that's sort of the whole point. In "High Space", you can't be in orbit 300 miles above Earth's surface and stay over one spot - you have to be going a lot slower than orbital speeds. And the troposphere is the lowermost portion of Earth's atmosphere, not what you would hit first on the way down! But of course the technical details aren't the central point of the stories, so maybe it's silly to be picky about it.
The longest fiction section, "The Rings of Earth", by William H. Keith, is among the best of the contributed stories. The vision it paints, of a future Earth-bound society knowing of "gods" above, and the stunning reality of the ending, is almost worth the price of the whole book.
The technical essays describe the project in good detail, though somewhat redundantly and at different levels. It would have helped if the editors had given the authors a better picture of what the other parts of the book would cover. I wrote (and donated) one of those essays, so I'm somewhat familiar with the way it worked - I have met a number of the authors in person as well.
The elevator physically consists of an anchor station on Earth's surface, a counterweight beyond geosynchronous orbit in space, and a strong ribbon connecting the two. A "lifter" climbs the ribbon; technical essays cover each of those components. Additionally, power to the lifter must be supplied without physical contact which would add precious mass - a power beaming system is described that could do the job. Construction steps and safety issues are also discussed.
The remaining essays discuss business, law, and political issues more than technology. How the elevator will make money, what it will do to the space launch business, is covered in several chapters. Who will have legal jurisdiction is one central question - from these essays it seems clear the United States will at the least have a strong claim, but inclusion of many international partners would probably be safest.
One of the applications that may be enabled by the cheaper space launch services the elevator will provide are solar power satellites. An essay here by Ralph Nansen discusses the enormous potential and environmental benefits from this alternative energy solution.
Finally, the Liftport staff call on all of us to "get involved" - including sponsoring a contest to win options on 1000 Liftport company shares. This book demonstrates the company has a potentially feasible plan to radically change the relationship between Earth and space - if they succeed it will change our future. Are you ready to join?
Most of it is essays on various aspects of the concept, and how they will/could be addressed. Cool.
However, while many of these essays were engagingly written for a lay readership- many were very much not. They were full of data, but extremely dry and lacking in the context that this lay reader would have needed to comprehend them properly.
And while the blurb i read said it was a mixture of fiction and essays... well, that's sort-of true. The problem is the original fiction is mostly not all that engaging; the best of the fiction was reprints from Golden Age authors.
But returning to the essays- it seems to me that there is a contradiction- not addressed- between (for example) the greater efficiency of the space elevator and its lack of pollution compared to rockets... and other essays that claim that the space elevator will only increase the market for rockets (and thus provide more pollution from these rockets). This is the kind of speculation I'd want in such a speculative tome... but it's frustrating that the contradictions were not ever addressed.
IF- and only if- you are a serious space elevator fan- I'd recommend this. However, it is very much not for the casual reader, despite a few individually great essays.
By coincidence, I visited the Wright Brothers' museum near Kitty Hawk while on vacation. It is striking how rapidly air travel developed from the "cranks and weirdos" stage around 1900 to a substantive business. I do not know if the analogy translates, but you never know.