Monthly Archives: August 2010

ISEC awards its first prize

Gaylen R. Hinton is the winner of the very first prize awarded by the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).  His paper, ‘Seven Deadly Assumptions about Space Elevators‘ was awarded an ‘Honorable Mention’ in the Artsutanov Prize award category.

Gaylen received a framed Honorable Mention certificate, signed by both Yuri Artsutanov and ISEC Prize Chair Peter Swan.  He also had the tremendous good fortune to be personally handed the award by Yuri Artsutanov, attending the conference due to ISEC’s efforts.

In addition, ISEC is going to pay for Gaylen’s Space Elevator Conference Registration Fee, as a token of our appreciation of his efforts.  Finally, his paper is going to be included in the upcoming ISEC Journal.

So, congratulations to Gaylen Hinton, the first person to receive an award from ISEC.  We hope to see even better papers from Gaylen in the future.

I’ve included two picture thumbnails in this post (and, as always, you can click on them to see a full-size version).  The first is of Gaylen, on the left, receiving his award from Yuri, on the right.  In the middle is ISEC Director, Vice-President and Prize Chair, Peter Swan.  Peter gave the award presentation speech.

The second thumbnail is of, from left to right, Gaylen Hinton, Yuri Artsutanov, John Lee and Peter Swan.  John Lee is the head of the Leeward Space Foundation.  His foundation is a sponsor of the ISEC awards.

Congratulations again to Gaylen Hinton – well done!

The Space Elevator and the Strong Tether Challenge makes the news…

The local (Seattle, Washington) NBC affiliate is KING-TV.  They sent a crew to film Yuri and Jerome’s arrival at Sea-Tac on Thursday and another crew to film events, including the Strong Tether Challenge, at yesterday’s first day of the Space Elevator Conference.

A segment on these topics made both the afternoon and evening news on KING-TV.  This segment has been posted on the web here.  I thought it was a very well done piece; not sensationalistic and with all the facts correct.

We’ve also been mentioned twice on Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log, here and here.

Cosmic Log is one of my very favorite daily reads – I highly recommend that you subscribe to it.

Results from the 2010 Strong Tether Challenge

In a word, disappointing.  No team’s entry seriously challenged for the prize.  No team’s entry performed even to 10% of what was needed to win the prize.  Even with three teams entering carbon-nanotube or carbon-nanotube-reinforced entries, no visible, forward progress was made.

However, in another sense, progress WAS made.  Because of the way that the rules have been modified (i.e, to allow entries much shorter than was previously required), this allowed less-expensive tethers to be built.  And because of this, we had multiple, carbon-nanotube based entries this year, a first.  And there is every reason to believe that these teams will be back next year with a better product and, hopefully, with additional competitors.

One item of note; after the third or fourth tether entry was tested, Yuri Artsutanov (who was there to witness the competition) offered his tie as an entry…

It’s truly amazing how hard this is.  It’s truly amazing how hard it is to find someone who wants to build a carbon nanotube tether (let alone enter it into a competition).  I, personally, had tried to find competitors for this year’s competition and found it to be next to impossible.  There are several companies and universities out there making carbon nanotubes, but they, almost universally, are ‘in it’ for the electrical and other, non-strength related properties of carbon nanotubes.  One would think that the prize money and/or potential market for super-strong materials should be enough to spur development, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.  And the NASA rules precluding non-US-based entries certainly does not help.

But someone, somewhere, someday is going to do this.  All the physics point to this as being possible.  In the meantime, we’re all waiting as fast as we can…

So, until 2011…

23AUG10 Update – Andy Petro from the NASA Centennial Challenges program corrects me by pointing out that the rule precluding any non-US teams competing for prize money is a rule set by Congress, not by NASA. He also points out that non-US teams are welcome to compete, they just won’t be eligible to win any of the Prize Money. My apologies to Andy and NASA and thank you for setting the record straight.

The other two entries

Here are pictures of the other two entries in the Space Elevator – Strong Tether Challenge.

The two loops are from the same competitor.  In one of my earlier posts, I showed a nanotube thread – this is the end result of them (Spaceward as sent multiple threads) being wound into a loop.

The ‘long, shiny thing’ is, I understand it correctly, glass fibers coated with carbon nanotubes – I will find out more later and post it.

As always, please click on the picture thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture.

uStream TV ready to go for Strong Tether Competition

All hail Maurice Franklin from Microsoft for coming in at the last minute and rescuing the uStream TV broadcast of the upcoming Strong Tether Competition – Thanks Maurice!

The URL to follow this is—strong-tether-competition.  The feed is live now, you can see people setting up – it will probably be on and off between now and the competition.

The competition is scheduled to begin at 4:15pm US Pacific time.  I’ll be tweeting the status too.

Tune in – watch the future as it unfolds!

Another Tether entry

Just in the past few minutes, the third tether entry in the Strong Tether competition confirmed that they will compete.  A picture thumbnail of the nanotube loop being entered is included in this post (click on it for a full-size version).

As you can see, this has little in common with the meter-sized loops from previous competitions.  The Spaceward Foundation changed the rules this year to encourage more participation – and with three, confirmed entries, all of the carbon nanotubes, I think I can say it succeeded.

Prize levels are different, depending on the weight of the entry and it’s specific strength.  The different types of entries have been a challenge for Spaceward in adapting their “Tether Torture Rack” to them, but they have adapted as necessary.

And now, full disclosure on my part.  The entry picture in this post is from Odysseus Technologies, a company I have invested in.  So, I will admit to some bias in rooting for this particular entry to win ?.

However, the important thing is that SOMEONE wins, because if they do, this means that the state-if-the-art in this field has been advanced, and, as the lack of strong enough material to build a Space Elevator is the ‘long pole in the tent’, a winner would mean that the day a Space Elevator can actually be built becomes more real.

Still no details on uStream – I’ll post that as soon as I have it, promise…

Carbon nanotubes are HERE

The picture thumbnail is of one of the entries in today’s Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Challenge.

This thread has now been wound into a loop and will be put on the “Tether Torture Rack” in today’s competition.

I still don’t have the uStream details yet, but hope to have them in the next hour or two and will publish (and Tweet) them as soon as I have them.

Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson are HERE

Today I was very privileged to help welcome Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson to Seattle.  Everybody’s connections were on time so everyone showed up on time.

Peter Swan, ISEC Director and Vice-President arrived first this morning.  Jerome Pearson arrived shortly thereafter and they waited behind Security for Yuri to appear.  He and Eugene Schlusser (Yuri’s translator and traveling companion) were met at their gate by Peter and Jerome and then they all came downstairs to collect their luggage.  Michael Laine (of LiftPort fame), John Lee (of the Leeward Space Foundation) and Belinda Young (our publicist) were also part of the welcoming committee.

ISEC has hired a photographer / filmographer (Owen Kinding) and he was there to record all of the events.  In addition, we had a camera man from the local NBC affiliate (King 5 TV) recording things too.  He interviewed me and I now live in mortal fear of having said something stupid on camera.  If you’re in the Seattle area or if they broadcast on the Internet, you might want to tune in tonight at 10:00PM local (US Pacific) and see if I made a fool of myself.  Hopefully, most of the footage is of Yuri and Jerome.

It really was a thrill to shake both Yuri’s and Jerome’s hand today.  I have been working on making this happen for several months now and to see it all come to fruition was very satisfying.  I think they are going to be huge hit at the conference (which kicks off tonight with a Public presentation).

We’re back at the hotel now, getting ready to go to dinner.  After that, we’re all going to attend the Public presentation (presented by ISEC Board Member Bryan Laubscher).

They’re HERE – it’s really happened!

(A few pictures for you.  The topmost is of Yuri Artsutanov, on the left, and Jerome Pearson.  The middle picture is of our group getting filmed and interviewed by NBC news.  And the bottom picture is a more formal group shot.  In the front, from left to right, are Eugene Schlusser, Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson.  In the back, from left to right, are Peter Swan, Michael Laine, John Lee and yours truly.  As always, clicking on any of the picture thumbnails will display for you a full-size version of the picture.)

Latest updates on the Strong Tether Challenge

Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation, organizers of the Space Elevator Games, arrived in Seattle / Redmond today.  He tells me that there will be at least two contestants, and possibly a third, in this year’s Strong Tether Challenge.  All of the contestants are bringing entries made out of carbon nanotubes.

This is über-mega-cool.  In 2007, there was a single carbon nanotube entry from team DeltaX, a collaboration between MIT and Nanocomp.  In 2009, there was another single carbon nanotube entry from Shizuoka University in Japan.  Neither one performed very well.  The Delta-X entry slipped at the knot tied in the loop (very high tech ) while the Shizuoka entry, a ‘tape’ formed from nanotubes held solely by Van der Walls forces, broke at a very low level.

But that was the past and this is now the future.  With two, maybe three entries, we could see some very good performances.  The lack of a material strong enough is the single biggest obstacle in the way of building a Space Elevator.  Having some sort of breakthrough demonstrated at this year’s Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Challenge would be nothing short of monumental.

Plus, if there are any winners, there is a cool $2 Million dollar prize purse, courtesy of NASA, to be awarded.

So, stay tuned.  Despite a last-minute glitch, we’re still hopeful of broadcasting the competition live on uStream.  Details will be posted here (and on Twitter) as soon as they are available.

Results from Japan’s 2010 JSETEC Competition

The Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) held its 2nd annual Japan Space Elevator Technical & Engineering Competition this past weekend.  I received this email from Shuichi Ohno, president of JSEA:

We finished our JSETEC competition 2 days ago.
15 teams bring 16 climbers.
Each team tried 1-3 times.

Champion is Kanagawa University team. (Speed was not high, but safety sureness and functional point was high.)

Top players like Munich team could not complete their climb and (with) decent safety.

All of JSETEC acting team members are too much tired from 3 days competition.

Saskatchewan team’s rope tether climber marks 18.3m/s (=66km/h!) We have not checked, just from their log data, but we watched crazy climb speed before it broke and crashed on the ground.

We are now making English press release. (To be distributed)

Some news:
– We have a plan to hold climb meeting once for 3 – 4 month.(30-300m eight)  to enhance the climber technology. (cost $200 – $300 for each team)
– Andreas of Munich expressed their new SE competition plan in German from 2011.

Some press coverage:

Yahoo News UK


(Source movie of JSETEC was distributed by Reuter. We are now checking why Reuter TV crew didn’t indicate credit on the movie…)

Shuichi Ohno
Chairman JSEA

18.3meters/second! Yes, it’s a battery-powered climb, but still, that is very impressive.  It’s nice to see that the team from USST is keeping their hand in the game (I assume it’s the same group – I’ll have to check).

I also have just received the Press release from Kayoko Oshima which you can find here.  It gives the complete results from the competition.

Finally, Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation, found a video summary of the competition.  You can see it here. Note that this page is an aggregation of news stories.  At the moment, this story is the topmost, leftmost one.  I don’t know how long it will stay up on this site or it’s future location among other stories.  So, the sooner you try and watch it, the better chance you’ll have.

The video summary is very good, and it’s very impressive that they put this together and aired it just a couple of days after the competition.

Congratulations to Shuichi Ohno and the Japan Space Elevator Association for putting on another great competition.  And congratulations to all of the competitors, especially the winners from Kanagawa University, for their fine showing.

Strong Tether challenge just 3 days away…

The Strong Tether challenge, part of the Space Elevator Games, is just three days away!  It will be held at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference, on Friday, August 13th.

This challenge is part of the NASA Centennial Challenge program and is administered by the Spaceward Foundation.  Oh, and by the way, NASA has provided a $2 Million dollar prize purse for this competition, just like they have for the Climber / Power-Beaming competition.

This year it looks like we may may have multiple entries – the first time that’s happened in a few years.  But we’re only going to know for sure at the competition.

For up-to-the-minute information and status, subscribe to our Twitter Feed “SEGames”.  And, if all works according to plan, we’ll be broadcasting the competition live over the Internet via uStream.  Details will be posted here and on Twitter.

I know that the Climber / Power-Beaming Challenge is the ‘sexier’ of the Space Elevator Games, but IMHO, the Strong Tether Challenge is the more important one.  No one in the know seriously doubts the ability to beam power over distance and then do something useful with it (though the devil is always in the details and I’m certainly not saying it is easy – look how long it took a team to actually win some prize money in this challenge), but creating a fundamentally stronger material is more than an exercise in ‘simple’ Engineering – it requires a real scientific breakthrough – and this breakthrough is required if we’re going to build an earth-based Space elevator someday.

If someone can win the challenge this year at the Space Elevator Conference, the year that Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson attend, well then I think it will be safe to say that Gods want a Space Elevator to be built.

Stay tuned!

They’re back – and still horsing around…

Long time readers know of the Elevator2Space guys – 4 funny dudes who have put out a couple of dozen short vignettes of Space Elevator humor…

Their ‘final episode’ (which I blogged about here) appears to have only been a pause in their efforts.  They have two new episodes which I share with you here.



I am very glad they are back and I plan on playing many of their videos during the upcoming Space Elevator Conference.

You can view all of their episodes here.

Looking for a few good teams…

I received this email from Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates.  It’s pretty self-explanatory…

The dust has settled from the failed attempt to schedule the games for this fall. I will give a recap of how we got here.

A few months after the last games USST was informed that they would not be allowed to enter the games this time around. Turns out that the prize monies are reserved for US citizens. This was not a new rule but how would you tell a US team from a non US team? The rules said that the team captain had to be a US citizen. USSTs official captain was just a figurehead to meet that requirement. I will let you decide for yourselves if this is all fair or not. Personally I would rather compete to be the best in the world.

I do however have a bias. The KC Space Pirates were sharing laser expenses with USST. Also the cost of running the competition is divided among the teams. With USST gone our costs jump by $30,000 to $50,000. That was more than I thought we could handle. With only 1 competitor there really is not a competition. So the competition was delayed to give USST time to figure out a way. A wide array of options were explored. In May USST dropped out graciously.

The costs were just too high. I asked Spaceward to work on lowering the costs. A new venue was found up in Washington state that was close to the helicopter. This would lower costs significantly. Spaceward got a preliminary OK from the venue and I set about raising the funds needed. Amazingly I got pledges for the more than $50,000 we needed in just 2 weeks. But the time needed to find the venue and raise the money left little lead time for everything else to come together. We needed official approval from NASA the venue and TRUMPF to proceed.

An unfortunate snag was hit causing another 2+ week delay in the process of getting all the paperwork together and that was enough to push past fall and into winter. It’s not prudent to hold an outdoor event that requires mild weather in the winter in Washington state. So that leaves us with Spring 2011.

But there is still a cloud of doubt over the competition. Most of the pledges I received were conditional on fall 2010. So I still don’t know if we can raise the money and I don’t know if TRUMPF will still be willing to provide a laser. We also don’t know if even LaserMotive will stick around that long.

What we need is a few more teams to enter the competition. That will lower the costs and put the predictability back into the competition.

This has put me in the rather odd position of trying to recruit teams to compete with us. The threat of winning less money is balanced by the high cost of raising the money needed without additional teams.

I am even going so far as to offer help to new teams to help them up the steep learning curve of the competition. This offer is in exchange for a cut of their prize. Remember, we are pirates after all.

The altruistic motivations that provided the resources to run the competition in the past are substantially less this round. Mainly because the success of the competition has shown that power beaming works largely as predicted and is only currently practical for a few applications. The big motivators of cheap Space Access and the Space Elevator are firmly located in the future world of better lasers and bigger budgets. I think that both of those are coming.

But without new teams bringing in new innovation and resources the competition may not happen at all.

So the KC Space Pirates are on a recruiting drive. If you think you have what it takes, want to go where few have gone before, and have at least some kind of budget, contact me.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

So, the gauntlet has been thrown – any takers?

The Mighty Tether – now on YouTube

In May of 2008, I posted about a DVD-story that had been created about Team Astroaraneae – a group of people that had entered into the first two Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Competition.

This DVD, entitled the “Mighty Tether” is now available in 5 parts on YouTube.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5


It’s a shame that they have not competed since the first two competitions…

Remember, the 2010 Strong Tether Competition will be held at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference in Redmond, Washington – it’s still not too late to make your reservation, but time is running out…

Here’s to a successful 2010 Competition!

Conversations with Yuri Artsutanov – part III

This is the third in a three part series of Conversations with Yuri Artsutanov.  Part I can be found here and Part II can be found here

What Yuri Artsutanov told us about himself

Conversations with Yuri Artsutanov by phone, March 2010

Q. When and where were you born?
A.I was born on the 5th of October, 1929 in Leningrad, on the Moika river, in the building which once belonged to the Governor-General of St Petersburg in the XVIIIth century, during the time when either Casanova or Cagliostro visited the city.

Q.Who were your parents?
A. My mother was a teacher of history and worked in both standard and technical schools. My father was also a teacher of history but taught in special schools for workers which were organized after the revolution to educate the working classes. They met at the “A. Herzen Education Institute” where they studied together.

My maternal great-grandfather, my mother’s grandfather, was Ivan Vassil’evich  Vassil’ev (after whom a street in old St Petersburg was named, now called Degtyaryov’s street). He was the son of a serf  who came to St Petersburg from  Tver province to sell canvases. Artists recognized his talent and began to teach him their trade. He became an artist and produced many paintings. Later he even  became an Honorary Citizen, the title passed on to the next generations as Hereditary Honorary Citizen and my mother had this title as well. He opened a lane on the Okhta (a district in St Petersburg on the other side of the Big Neva River) near the Okhta cemetery. This lane grew and was renamed Vassil’ev street as I mentioned before.

In 1935, when I was 5 years old my father was arrested in connection with Trotsky’s trial and he was exiled to Kazakhstan. During the first couple of summers he came illegally from there to the dacha we rented near Leningrad. In 1937 he was finally sentenced to  five years as ‘an enemy of the people’, and taken to a concentration camp in Magadan, on the Kolyma.

After that  he was stripped of his civic rights for a further15 years, exactly like Ivan Denisovich, the hero in Solzhenitsyn famous novel. After five years, in 1942 he was released but denied  the right to live in a big city. He lived in a village called Nexican, in Magadan district until 1957.  After Stalin’s death and with Khrushchev in power he was rehabilitated. Then he moved to Krasnoyarsk where he lived until his death in 1973. I have a document confirming that I’m the son of the victim of unlawful repression and as such I receive an additional pension – 300 roubles (about $10!) a  month.

My mother died in 1998. I had a brother who died 5 years ago. He was a graduate of the Air Force Academy as a meteorologist. After his death his wife appropriated  my flat by deceit and left me to live in a tiny flat where I can’t order all my belongings properly. I think my original flat should become a museum just like the Tsiolkovsky museum.

Q. Where were you educated? What do you remember about your school?
A. I was educated  in school No.14 (which later became No.78) on the Petrogradskaya Side. That was before the war and it was a standard school and my class was a standard one as well. There were some boys who were friends interested in science and we discussed all sorts of  unusual scientific problems. I finished year 7 only.

Q. What you remember about the war?
A. The war started in June 1941 but only in March of 1942 were my mother, brother and I able to escape the blockaded city across the frozen Lake Ladoga along the so called “Road of Life”. We were lucky to survive as the truck in front of us sank under the ice. We spent the rest of the war in the Urals – in the village of Beloyarka in what was  Chelyabinsk province at that time but later became Kurgan province. There was a very nice river in Beloyarka and the village itself has some connection to  Tsar Boris Godunov.

Q. Where did you study and work after the war?
A. We returned to Leningrad in July 1945. After  7th grade at the standard school I began studies  at the technical school from 1945 to 1949 and in that year I entered the “Lensoviet Leningrad Institute of  Chemical Technology”. After graduation in 1954 I  was sent to The Research Institute for the Chemistry of Mineral Oil (I stayed there for 3 years) and worked on polymers. In 1957 I entered the special course at the same Chemical Institute. I studied to do my PhD in the faculty of colloid chemistry.

Unfortunately I didn’t complete my PhD. I wrote my thesis but didn’t submit it because I became very sceptical of the details of “ Kremnyov’s Method ” ( he was the  head of the Faculty) when I  found them to be incorrect – this way of doing things made it possibile of achieve any results you wished.Q. Was it at that time that the idea of a lift into space came to you? How?
A. Yes, my idea for  a lift into space took shape at that time. I was always interested in space and my friend Alik Yezrielev’s father, as a Stalin Prize winner had access to  foreign scientific and technical journals (that was in 1957, four years after Stalin’s death) and we could also read them. On one occasion we read about a newly developed extremely strong polymer, so strong that if you used it to make a rope 400km in length it would not break under its own weight. At an altitude of 400km the force of gravity is already less than on earth so the rope could be lengthened up to 1km ( according to  my calculations) without it  breaking. The question arose what thickness would a rope of infinite length require. It turned out to be impossible if it was of a constant diameter. However, such a rope could be possible if it had a variable cross section, that is, was spindle shaped and if it was possible to use centrifugal force  to counter the force of gravity. Step by step the idea of a lift into space was born. I kept talking to people about the idea but didn’t submit my article to the Soviet newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” until 1960 and a week later they published it.
Q. Where does your ability to have ideas on so many different areas come from? Is it innate or did you develop the skills yourself or were they the result of your studies and work?
A. It is difficult for me to answer that question. As a child I read popular science books in the series “ Entertaining Physics”,”Chemistry”,”Mathematics”, “Astronomy”,”Mechanics” and so on, all by the same author Perlman. Perhaps both my interest and my ability came from there.
Q. If you were interested in such books and you read them it suggests you already had an interest in these things. The ability to think, to analyse, to develop new ideas could develop from your reading because all those books were about ideas and how to put them into practice.
A. I was always solving difficult problems. For example in  4th Grade I solved all  the problems in our Arithmetic text book.

Q. Was your Arithmetic teacher special?
A. No, he was an average teacher.

Q. Do you recall any outstanding teacher at your school?
A. Yes. In Grade 7 there was a teacher of Physics – Guchkov who made a big impression on me. He gave me a physics textbook to read which he had used at University.

Q. Did you understand it all?
A. Of course! (he laughs)

Q. What are your own best qualities?
A. Love for knowledge otherwise known as ‘inquisitiveness’. I love to solve difficult problems. Yes, I’ve always tried to solve difficult problems wherever I’ve been.

Q. Did you join the Komsomol (Young communists) organization?
A. Of course I did. It was compulsory! As soon as I was 14 years old  I became a member at once.

Q. What happened when you graduated from the Technological Institute? Did you let your membership lapse?
A. When I started my studies at the technical school I was asked whether I was a member of Komsomol and I said “yes”. When I started to work in the Research Institute for the Chemistry of  Mineral Oil I was asked if I was a member of the Communist Party. I said ”no”. Of  Komsomol? I said “yes”. When I completed the course work for my PhD in 1960 I left Komsomol because of my age. They kept asking me to become a member of the Communist Party but I avoided it at all costs. I was afraid to tell them that I didn’t want to! (Laughs).

From 1960 to 1964 I remained in the faculty of Colloid chemistry and worked in the laboratory. for four years.

In 1965 my friend Alik Yezrielev persuaded me to join the Institute of  Synthetic Rubber (VNIISC) because at the Chemistry for  Mineral Oil Institute I had been working with latexes. It was here I first met some young dissidents.

Q. Did the fact your father was arrested affect your career, if so how?
A. Yes, it affected me before his rehabilitation in 1956. Before then I was expelled from the special faculty of Atomic Energy in the Technological Institute where I studied. It was actually contrary to their own popular slogan “Children are not responsible for the deeds of their fathers”! (laughs). I always had the best marks in all subjects. I was awarded a special allowance as part of my scholarship (but they didn’t give me a Stalin scholarship!) Everyone  around me kept telling me I was the best student in the Institute etc. Despite this I was expelled form the Atomic Energy faculty.

Q. How did you get into the Faculty of  Atomic Energy in the first place?
A. I had a “red”diploma (an outstanding diploma with Honors) from the technical school where I had studied  so they enrolled me there but by doing so they kept me from any of the other, better faculties. (The faculty of Atomic Energy was “closed” with increased security and secrecy so you needed to have an absolutely (politically)clean biography. From that point of view I was not  “trustworthy” because my father was a political prisoner. Political considerations were more important than my qualifications in 1949. My father wasn’t rehabilitated until 1956.

Q. Were you interested in atomic energy?
A. No, but they offered other subjects in the faculty: all the nuclear processes, all the chemical processes connected with nuclear technology etc. i.e. it gave a very broad knowledge around the behaviour of atoms.

Q. How did you become an “Enemy of People”?
A. It was much later, in 1965 and I didn’t become one directly as such. There was a group of nine students who decided to organize a communist revolution. They were all arrested and imprisoned. Those who read their pamphlets and the book called “From Bureaucracy to Dictatorship of the Proletariat” and who hadn’t informed the “organs” (of the KGB) about such anti-Soviet activities were expelled. ‘Why didn’t you denounce them?’ ‘Why didn’t you  come to tell us?’ ‘If you hadn’t forgotten our special department (Department No.1)  at your place of work or study and if you had have come to us more often everything could be different’. So, I was dismissed from the Institute of Synthetic Rubber. I had worked there for only a year and a half.

Q. How did that affect your life?
A. It continued to affect me in one way or another. Wherever I worked I was either paid less than before or didn’t receive any wages for some months. And if they wanted to dismiss me I was told to write an application that I wanted to terminate my work “of my own free will”. Or else I was told, “Yes, we’ll appoint you” but three days later I was rejected.

That was the case in five or six work places. Finally I found a position at the VNIIASH (Institute for  Abrasives and Grinding Materials) where people from the 1st Department of my previous place of employment had called asking them to take me (the Institute had a low security profile). That was in 1966. Actually it only happened after I had gone to the headquarters of the KGB in Leningrad (the so called “Big House” on the Liteinyi Prospect) and told them that  I hadn’t known that I had to inform them about the dissidents. I hadn’t known I had to denounce them! I worked from 1966 to 1992 at VNIIASH.  In between I worked for four years at the “Ilych” in an experimental research plant.

Q. Your future wife worked at VNIIASH?
A. Yes, she had graduated from the Electrotechnical Institute in Leningrad.

Q. How did you survive financially before you started to work at VNIIASH?
A. My mother and my aunt helped me with money but personally I wasn’t stressed because I felt it wasn’t my fault that I didn’t  have a job.

Q. Why didn’t you emigrate when it became possible?  You told me in 1979 when I emigrated that you couldn’t bear leaving the Russian landscape.

A. No, I was joking! I never considered emigrating seriously because I couldn’t bear to cut  my connections with hundreds of my friends and acquaintances.

Q. Are you a member of some scientific organization, club, or association?
A. I was a member of a society where people delivered scientific lectures and I did the same: the  Society for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge Unfortunately I haven’t  heard about the society for a long time. I also gave lectures at the Historical Museum of the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Q. When did you retire from VNIIASH?
A. In 1992. I didn’t retire, they made me go on the pension. The Deputy Director of Science, M. Efros, told me  I was too individualistic. If I had have  included all the “essential people” (i.e. himself) as co-authors on the  applications of my inventions I could have worked much longer!

Copyright 2010.:Yuri Artsutanov, Natalie Sherman, Eugene Schlusser

This conversation, as the previous two, are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in any form without the express, written consent of Eugene Schlusser (eugenesc [at]

I find the whole interaction with the KGB and the Russian state beaurocracy to be fascinating.  To not be allowed to do the work of your choice because they had a political problem with your father is just so bizarre…

Yuri Arsutanov and Jerome Pearson will both be at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference and it’s still not too late to sign up!  Come out, learn more about this magnificent idea, and meet the two people largely responsible for the modern day concept of the Space Elevator!

The Space Elevator Blog wishes to thank Mr.’s Schlusser and Artsutanov for their permission to publish these conversations.  It’s truly been an honor.

Conversations with Yuri Artsutanov – part II

This is the second part of a three part series; “Conversations with Yuri Artsutanov”.  Part I can be found here.

Dyson Sphere

(Conversation with Yura Artsutanov by phone – Melbourne – St Petersburg), March 2010

Q. What is Dyson’s sphere?
A. Dyson is an American scientist-physicist. He proposed that if we want to survive in the Universe we need to search for much bigger sources of energy than the sun, the sizes of the entire solar system and the absolute temperature of  radiation up to 300 F,  the temperature needed to support life. He said that life of any civilization develops and expands requiring more and more space. In the end, the entire terrestrial civilization will occupy a “cocoon” – so called “Dyson’s cocoon ” which will include some of the planets of our solar system, satellites, any artificial bodies (Sputniks) etc. All  this matter will form a  sphere around the sun capturing its entire energy for use by  humankind. At present only a millionth part reaches our planet. So the sphere has to be of an enormous size but its temperature has to be equal to that of the human body.

Nobody knows how to construct such a cocoon.  The (Polish) writer and philosopher Stanislav Lem wrote that it was impossible. Mathematics and mechanics also indicate such a sphere is impossible to create, that it is fundamentally unstable, that it will be crushed by the forces of gravity.

So this is my proposal: to make a belt in the shape of a beautiful shell revolving around the sun like a stretched satellite. If such a belt were constructed we could get not just a millionth part of the sun’s energy but as much as one hundredth of it. However, the radiation will be immense so a second belt has to be constructed at an angel to the first, and a third belt – at the same angle as the second one. The second belt must have a lesser diameter than the first one and the third belt a lesser diameter than the second  to prevent them from crashing into each other. Such a shell will be impossible to crush. It will be stable because in each section  the centrifugal force will be balanced by the force of gravity. The sphere will rotate around the sun and in addition it might even be possible to move closer to the sun. However that is a very complicated option.

So in principle it is possible to devise a mechanical  structure which will not be crushed under its own weight and I’m the first one to propose this. My article “Threefold Matryoshka” was published in the Russian magazine “Energy”. 1986, No.12. There is even a drawing of how it will look. I sent the article to Freeman Dyson, but unfortunately I couldn’t meet him when I was in the USA  about 10 years ago.

Copyright 2010 Yuri Artsutanov, Natalie Sherman, Eugene Schlusser

Again, these conversations are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in any form without the express, written consent of Eugene Schlusser (eugenesc [at]

The ‘belt’ idea seems to mimic Larry Niven’s Ringworld (one of the all-time great SciFi stories) – I wonder if Yuri is familiar with this novel?  I’ll have to ask him at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference.

As I mentioned in Part I of this series, Yuri will be attending the upcoming Space Elevator Conference in Redmond, Washington.  If you want the chance to be able to meet both Yuri and Jerome Pearson, two of the true pioneers of the space age, come out to the Conference – it’s going to be the best one yet!