I really like the brief Quicktime video found on this page. The page is part of the small personal web site of Dr. Bradley Edwards, the scientist who has done more than perhaps anyone to make the idea of a space elevator seem like a serious prospect for the near future. This short video clip gives you a quick idea of the mind-boggling possibilities. I think it's especially cool that there's a big optical connection here - space elevators will run on power beamed up to them with high-power lasers using adaptive optics. Here is another brief video (2:08 WMV) that explains the space elevator concept in simple terms.
I read Edwards’ book The Space Elevator about a year ago (discussed here, here, and here), just after I started this blog, and I was impressed with the scope and depth of analysis he had put into that book, which was the result of a second-stage study sponsored by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC). There are certainly challenges, but it seems they are mainly engineering challenges, including the big one of producing carbon nanotube ribbons of sufficient real strength (the theoretical strength of CNT’s is more than sufficient, but there have been questions raised as to whether the required strength can really be achieved in a ribbon of some 100,000 km in length). I said mainly engineering challenges, not merely engineering challenges.
In about a week, at the X Prize Cup 2006 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the Space Elevator Games will draw more attention to the prospects of a space elevator as teams compete in two events, the Power Beam Challenge and the Tether Challenge (both part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, each with a $200,000 prize, a prize which will grow in value over the next few years).
Triggered in part by these upcoming challenges, there has been a lot of activity on the web, and some new publications. Web sites include the Space Elevator Reference Blog (edited by Dr. Edwards) and the Space Elevator Blog (official blog of the 2006 games), and the website and staff blog of Liftport Corp. I have not yet read any of the new publications, so I can’t really comment (I’m about to order and/or download a couple), but you can find information about them at the blogs and web sites noted above.
From what I have read, I do believe space elevators can be designed and built in the relatively near future. Whether that's 10, 15, 25, or more years, I can't say. Maybe there are some showstoppers that will make it much harder than many now believe. But when it arrives, it will revolutionize our access to space. I hope I'm around to see it, and maybe even ride it.