I have two cool things to report. One is
that space elevators and power-beaming are coming. The other is the
way that they're
First, the announcement. Alan Boyle reports:
"Borrowing a page from the playbook for
the X Prize spaceship competition, NASA has set aside $400,000 over
the next two years for competitions to encourage the development of
wireless power transmission systems and super-strong
"The Beam Power Challenge and the Tether
Challenge, announced here Wednesday, are the first two of NASA's
Centennial Challenges, which aim to provide incentives for
technological achievements that could be applied to future space
It's not a lot of money, not for me, at
least, come on, haven't you seen how much I charge for a blogad--but -- as the X
Prize demonstrated -- you don't need a lot of money to accomplish a
lot if you spend it well, something that NASA hasn't done,
historically. And in some ways, that's the real news
Both the tether technology and the
power-beaming are important on their own, of course. Space
"elevator" technology is rapidly moving out of the realm of
Aerosmith videos and Dr. Who show, as progress in material science makes cables strong enough
to reach from the Earth's surface to a point beyond geosynchronous
orbit feasible. With such a cable, it becomes possible to reach
orbit via electric motors (which themselves can be solar powered),
making the prospect of geeks like me scoring on such an elevator,
say with a hot chick like Liv Tyler, much more likely.
And if you can get to space cheaply, you can build big things there
cheaply -- instead of expensively and badly, as we do now -- and if
you can do that, among the things you can build really really big
digital space-camera thingies that can then be used to take photos
of all those hot babe demonstrators in all those 'Stan' countries.
But how do you get those photos to Earth?
Well, you could send them down a really really long cable, if your satellite's at
geosynchronous orbit, but you can also beam right to your portable
laptop, which lets you oogle hot protest babes in a much wider variety of terrestrial locations, from a much
wider variety of orbits. Hence the relevance of the power-beaming
Solar Power Satellites offer one answer
to a question raised by the current wave of enthusiasm for
hydrogen-fueled cars: Where will the hydrogen come from? Only
slightly less important and infinitely more interesting is that such
technology would answer questions raised by the current wave of
enthusiasm for protest babes around the world: Are pro-democracy
protest babes really hotter than anti-democracy protest babes?
Such a satellite might also have infrared technology. That
way, we could check to see if protest babes in, say, Tajikistan,
wear thongs or briefs. Nice!
In a way, though, what's really
revolutionary isn't this stuff -- people have been talking about,
and, in a small way, working on, Solar Power Satellites and Real Big
Digital Cameras for pretty
much my entire lifetime -- but the way it's being done. As
some of us
have argued for a while, a prize program like this one has a lot to
Instead of going for a massive Apollo (or
worse, Space Shuttle) sort of program, NASA is attacking the problem
incrementally, and it's getting other minds involved. The way the
prize program is structured (contestants get to keep their own
intellectual property) encourages people to participate, and the
goals get more ambitious over time.
What's more, NASA seems to have
identified a suite of technologies that, taken together, look pretty
promising where more ambitious projects are concerned:
Micro re-entry vehicles.
Robotic love slaves.
Auto-transforming ninja cars.
Human-robotic analog research campaigns.
Ice making death rays.
Anti-tinfoil mind control devices.
Cheese sandwich breakthroughs.
Put all this stuff together and you've
got the makings of an ambitious space program, one which focuses on
important things, like babes. Maybe there's hope for NASA yet.