Dr. Gregory Benford – Space Elevator Skeptic

I was at the Skeptics Conference this past weekend – the subject was Global Warming.  One of the presenters was Dr. Gregory Benford (Physicist and prolific SF writer) and his topic was “things that we could DO to solve the Global Warming problem.”

During his talk, he dismissed fusion as a “solution that is 50 years off and always will be.”  Another possibility he mentioned, but dismissed as being too expensive, was space-based, solar power panels.  During the Q&A period after his presentation, I asked him why the solar power solution was too expensive – was it the lift cost to get the hardware into orbit or was it the cost of the hardware itself?  He replied that it was the lift cost.  I then asked him that if there was a much cheaper way to get this stuff up to orbit, would that change the equation; i.e., would this be now a viable solution – he readily agreed.  I asked him what he thought about the idea of a Space Elevator.  He replied that it would be developed “after fusion power”, getting a nice laugh from the audience.  Sigh.

After his presentation, I spoke to him and asked what he specifically thought was unrealistic about the possibility of a Space Elevator.  He replied that it was “tension” and “stability”, but did acknowledge that some work was being done with “carbon fibers.”  I didn’t have a chance to speak with him anymore – people wanted to talk to him about his solution to global warming and I didn’t want to monopolize his time with my pet subject.

Dr. Benford is a physicist and I respect him tremendously.  He has a reputation for thinking outside the box and I was disappointed in his dismissal of the Space Elevator idea.  On the plane ride back (the conference was in Pasadena, California and I live near Chicago) I spent some time thinking about what to do about this.  I think what I’ll do is send him a copy of Dr. Edwards book and the new LiftPort book.  I have no idea if he’ll look at them or not, but I think it’s worth a shot…

4 thoughts on “Dr. Gregory Benford – Space Elevator Skeptic

  1. Brian

    It might be that he’s not had a chance to keep up with the developments. You – I – we’re involved and have a fairly good grasp of what’s going on. Dr. Benford – I’m sure he’s interested but may or may not have had a chance to investigate in enough detail to have a good opinion.

  2. Pingback: Velcro City Tourist Board » Blog Archive » Links for 06-06-2006

  3. James D. Iverson


    I am a senior engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center, and work with Dr. Edwards on the Space Elevaor concept. The problem with the SE system is primarily tension. Imagine lowering a rope over an infinitely high cliff; the rope will get heavier and eventually break under its own weight. A supermaterial needs to be created that can withstand immense loads that would accumulate between the Earth’s surface and geosynchrous orbit. Until recently, such a material has been considered impossible. In my work with carbon nanotubes, I have now developed a modality that overcomes molecular length limitations and will yield a material with an ultimate strength of approximately 20 million psi. I am defining a plan using this technology to create a low cost space transportation system that can ultimately address the global warming problem by injecting quantum nanodots or other suitable (IR-absorbing) material into the L1 point between the Earth and Sun, and later use solar power sattelites to enable conversion to a hydrogen economy.

    If you wish to review my research on nanotube composites please visit my URL or email me at james@iversonusa.com.

    James D. Iverson

Comments are closed.