“The Space Elevator – Opening Space to Everyone” – a Book Review

As a long-time fan of the concept of a Space Elevator, and having previously devoured the thin amount of literature available on this subject, I have been eagerly awaiting this book. I was not disappointed.

This book, compiled and edited by LiftPort, Inc., has multiple authors; it’s a collection of essays about various aspects of the Space Elevator. Each entry is unique and stands on its own. Some authors tout the benefits to be gained from constructing this highway to the solar system. Others give us a description and/or suggested solution to a problem to be overcome in its construction while still others create a vision of what civilizations that have Space Elevators might be like. All are valuable and contribute to the theme of the book; Space Elevators will greatly increase our access to earth orbit and beyond and will give humanity its first “broadband access” to space.

Several of the essays struck a particular chord with me. Joan Horvath’s “Turning Space Launch into a Business” does an excellent job of describing the transition of space launches from a government program into a private enterprise. Ben Shelef’s “The Lifter: The Space Elevator’s Robotic Workhorse” and Dr. Kare’s “Powering a Space Elevator” give us a good overview of how Lifter’s might actually work. And LiftPort’s own Michael Laine makes a fine case for why private enterprise should take the lead in this undertaking in his essay “The Business Basics of Space Elevator Development”. Other readers will have their own favorites, too, I’m sure. My favorite line in the book is in Piotr Jagodzinski’s excellent essay “Why International Public Inclusion is Important” where he writes “…space should be open for all, not just a few astronauts and a couple of rich guys.” I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly.

Criticisms? I would like to have seen the issue of Radiation being addressed as well as the issue of Space Debris. Both of these problems are well known and an essay or two sharing the current thinking on these issues would have been quite informative. Finally, a nit; I have to mildly complain about the cover of the book. No serious proposal that I’m aware of has been made to anchor a Space Elevator anywhere but in water, on the equator, usually in the Pacific Ocean. The cover of the book, however, shows a hypothetical Elevator anchored somewhere in the Eastern United States. But none of these criticisms diminish the value of this book. It’s a fine accomplishment and should contribute to LiftPort’s efforts to make Space Elevators something that the public is aware of and, more importantly, demands.

The book is available directly from LiftPort and also from Amazon. Buy it.

Update 22MAY06 – Here is the Space.com announcement about the book.  In it is also mentioned a multi-city tour this summer to promote the book.  I hope they make Chicago…

18 thoughts on ““The Space Elevator – Opening Space to Everyone” – a Book Review

  1. Brian

    The platform on the cover is implausible as well. It is a fact that whatever the space elevator ends up looking like it’s going to be visually boring and industrial.

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  3. Matt Metcalf

    In response to Brian’s comment, I don’t think anything that stretches from the ground to well beyond GEO is going to look boring. Just the scope and scale will be awe-inspiring, even if the aesthetics of the machinery is not.

    Remember, the Eiffel Tower is just a bunch of steel girders welded together, but it’s still pretty impressive to look at!

  4. michael laine

    so you have been following what we are up to for a while now, and so you know that the cover art is not from our staff artist, nyein. the artist was chosen almost 2 years ago, and i didnt have much control over it. the publishers exact words were ‘you may not judge a book by its cover, but you can sure SELL it, by its cover…” so, we have a pretty picture that is not remotely accurate. 🙂 by the way, if any of you are hard core SF fans, this cove is by david mattingly, the same guy that draws for the ‘honor harrington’ series (a personal favorite of mine).

    thanks for your comments, we apprecaite it. take care. mjl

  5. Marc Bissonnette

    About to click out to order the book from Amazon.ca, but I was curious: Any elements of the book describe disaster planning ? I can see a whole slew of benefits to humanity from the space elevator, but a recent sci-fi novel (Ben Bova – a master!) featured a space elevator crashing to Earth as a result of industrial saboteurs; The thought of half of a 62,000 km structure falling to Earth is somewhat sobering, to say the least.

  6. Ted Semon Post author

    Hi Marc, you’ll find a couple of essays in the book addressing Space-Elevator safety issues (including one entitled “Defense of the Space Elevator Against Threats of Violence”). Hopefully these will address your concerns. But a short answer is this; the Space Elevator (as presently envisioned) WON’T be a “Tower” standing on earth. Rather it will be a ribbon supported in space. If something happens to break the elevator, the lower portion will fall to earth, yes, but it’s paper thin, weighs little and will either burn up in the atmosphere or flutter to earth with all the force of a falling newspaper. That portion above the break will head out into space. A commercial loss, to be sure, but not a safety issue for those on the ground.

  7. michael laine


    actually, the chapters that ted and brian point out are helpful, dont really answer the question you are asking. so, no, thats not in this book. we are already working on the NEXT one, which will be a ‘think-tank’/social policy type that will answer some of the ‘tough’ questions like disaster issues and military issues.

    we go so far as to say in the first coupld pages of this first one that ‘we dont even have all the questions – yet – let alone all the answers…” however we have looked into the scenarios you are describing. all i can say is that i personally dont want to spend 15 years of my life, and $10b of other peoples money, without knowing how to solve this problem.

    by the way, bova is a genius, and i loved his book, althouth it was a little creepy the way he portrayed the ‘space elevator guy’ in his book. i probably am that obsessive, but i hope i have better social skills. 🙂 bova did paraphrase a line i use in my presentations… and it was surreal reading my own words coming out of a characters mouth in a book. i really cant describe that, but it was weird in a creepy/cool kinda way.

    i hope you enjoy our book, let us know what you think, and be sure to register (from the back of the book) with us to win stock in liftport.

    take care. mjl

  8. Marc Bissonnette

    Hi again; Ordered the book you suggested, as well as the one entitled “The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System” (I got suckered by the “others ordering this book also enjoyed…” 🙂

    In Bova’s book, when the elevator was detonated at it’s midway portion, some of it did indeed burn up in the atmosphere, but the vast bulk of it still hit the Earth, causing tidal waves, seismic events, etc; I can’t envision it truly being “paper thin” and still being able to support not only the elevating device, but commercially viable cargo, as well.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think the space elevator will be a *great* boon to all of humanity: I just think that Bova’s scenario is worth thinking about, as well.

    Anyone have any hard numbers on what a viable elevator’s mass and size would actually be ? (I’ve gotta wait till the second week of June for those two books to arrive 🙂 )

  9. Marc Bissonnette

    MJL: On the ‘elevator guy’: He may have been creepy, but he got the babe, so not all was bad about that 😉

    I have no doubt that the disaster planning would encompass what would happen if it collapsed (by accident or nefarious design) – I was just curious as to whether anyone had given it some thought, yet. (My thoughts: A built-in destruct system to enable it to collapse within a 5 KM radius of it’s base if it began to fall – yes, issues with that idea, as well, but…)

    At 34 years of age, I certainly hope and expect that I am alive to witness the first cargo going up the beam: The change in Earth’s industry as a whole will be monumental: It will be as dramatic as the change when gunpowder, steam and electricity were respectively introduced to society.

    Gotta say thanks to Nanodot ( http://www.foresight.org/nanodot/ ) for pointing the way to this site – it’s already a bookmark, now 🙂

  10. Ted Semon Post author

    Glad to know we’ve made it to “Bookmark” status 🙂

    The numbers I recall about the weight of a Space Elevator ribbon is about 20 tons. Size (length) of about 100,000 Kilometers. And remember, it’s a ribbon, not a tower. If it breaks we’re looking at little or no problems. Now, a lifter on the ribbon, that’s a different story, but if there are people on board, a built-in destruct system might not be advisable…

  11. Marc Bissonnette

    Yeah, I spent some time reading through the Wikipedia entry on elevators (Which is really well done!) – I was genuinely surprised at just how little some of the proposed elevator designs would actually weigh; I’m thinking, though, that given the desire for multiple redundancies and increased payload desires, we’re probably going to see more than 20 tons for the entire length.

    I found a couple of interesting links to discussions on the Liftport site about propulsion for the lifters themselves – the discussion alone was interesting food for the brain.

    For the destruct system, I was thinking more along the lines of simply shaped charges designed to break up the ribbon so that it would fall in a relatively pre-defined area; Not talking about a 20,000 km mushroom cloud in the sky 🙂

    I suppose for the especially paranoid, one could incorporate an escape section to the lifter where, in the case of catestrophic failure of the ribbon, it would be jettisoned from the cable and then parachutes to slow the descent – not foolproof, but better than the thought of surviving a plunge at terminal velocity 🙂

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  13. Marc Bissonnette

    Woohoo! My copy of Liftport: Opening Space to Everyone just came in from Amazon today 🙂 Can’t wait for work to be over to start reading. Funnily enough, the postmistress saw the book when my wife opened it at the post office this morning and started talking all about space elevators (It’s funny, ‘cuz I live in a *really* tiny farming village) – Word gets around, even to the boonies 🙂

    I’m *really* glad I came across this blog – Merci Beaucoup for the book recommendation!

  14. Brian


    You’re welcome – nay encouraged – to write up your anecdote and impressions on the book for publication. Blogs are great if you have one, or feel free to submit it to info@liftport.com and I’ll happily post it on our blog.

    Brian Dunbar

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