Elevator to Space: No Longer Sci-fi?

Engineers are working to make space elevators a reality

8 January 2009

Engineers from around the world gathered in Tokyo in November at the first Japan Space Elevator Conference to discuss the latest research on space elevators. Meant to carry humans into space, such devices have long been a staple of science-fiction novels. They would require far less energy to lift an astronaut into space than a rocket blasting off from the ground. Engineers at the conference claimed that the heretofore missing link—a lightweight cable strong enough to connect the elevator “cab” from Earth to a counterweight in space—could be ready in the 2030s. NASA is involved; it is offering US $4 million for a space elevator that works.

Do you think we’ll see a space elevator within the next 30 years? Would you take a ride in one?


Response to October’s Question

Digital Versus Print Books

A recent survey by Ebrary, an e-book publisher in Palo Alto, Calif., shows that students are increasingly using digital books and search engines for research. Many of the 6500 students surveyed say they prefer digital content to print because they can search for information quickly and then cut-and-paste text. But most respondents agreed that print sources are still the most trustworthy, as well as better for reading a book from cover to cover.

Which do you prefer—e-books or print books and why?


Ease of Searching

If I’m doing research, I prefer electronic media, because I can search within a document. But if I’m actually going to read something, I prefer hard copy. I find it difficult to read a lot of text on a computer screen.

Todd W. Arnold
Charlotte, N.C.


Universal Access

I prefer e-books because I can download them anywhere in the world. Also, I can access them at any time, and they save paper. If I need to print something, I print only the pages I need.

Zdenek Severa
Blackburn North, Australia


Knowing Where You Are

Print books are better. The format of print will never be obsolete. It’s easy to see where you are in the text and how many pages are in front of and behind you. You also can write notes in the margins.

Doug Raymond
Orinda, Calif.



I prefer print books because I can read them cover to cover and highlight important sections. But e-books are easier to search through and might be better for research.

Elias C. Mokgonyana
Midrand, South Africa


The Best of Both Worlds

Both have good points and bad. E-books are better for searching data and for storage. However, they’re harder to read and may cause eyestrain. I find the information in print books easier to absorb and understand. I also can highlight sections of print books or write in their margins.

James Wong
Shrewsbury, Mass.


More to Offer

I prefer e-books for instruction manuals, application guides, technical papers, and the like. For novels and magazines, which I rarely search for specific content, I much prefer print.

Rich Young
New Berlin, Wis.


Defining the Search

With electronic materials, if I do not know exactly what I’m looking for, it can take me longer to come up with effective search terms than if I just skimmed through an index. I’ve also found that browsing electronic library catalogs and periodicals can be much more productive, because I tend to find things that I would have never thought to search for in the first place. It helps me think outside the box.

Bill Ganoe


One-sided Debate

Your question might give you a biased response because the people prone to reading e-books will be those reading this question in the electronic issue of The Institute.

Layne Watson
Blacksburg, Va.



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