Can I ride?

Will the Space Elevator carry people? How much is a ticket going to cost?

The Ride

While the initial Space Elevator will be used mostly for cargo (to build the space hotels that will become the destinations of space tourism), second generation Space Elevators will most certainly carry passengers.

When a Space Elevator climber departs, there will be none of the high drama launch sequence - no countdown, no strapping into acceleration couches... Figuratively speaking, when everyone's on board, we will simply shut the doors and go. Since the laser system doesn't kick in until the climber is well past the stratosphere, family members can literally stand on the dock and wave good-bye through the window.

Space Elevator cars will be very different from rockets or rocket planes, in a similar way to how train cars differ from jetliner cabins. Because of the very low cost per pound, the cars will be much roomier, and will have dining and sleeping accommodations.

Since a Space Elevator ride to GEO takes several days, the trip itself will be part of the experience. Unlike the high accelerations and sudden zero-g environment of a rocket launch, the weight of Space Elevator passengers will drop smoothly over the course of the trip, eventually zeroing out as they arrive at their destination at GEO. This will be lot gentler on the human body, allowing people to enjoy their stay in zero-g and avoid space sickness.

The trip back down will be similar to the trip up - a gradual transition from space to Earth, allowing the passenger to re-adjust to normal gravity. There will be no fiery atmospheric re-entry - just a smooth descent through the clouds. And sure enough, your family can stand at the dock and watch your excited faces as the climber arrives and touches back down. (Just like railways, there will likely be an 'up track' and a separate 'down track')

The cost of the ticket will be determined largely by the cost of your stay in space - the cost of providing you with living space, electric power, oxygen, water, food, entertainment - the actual transportation cost (roughly $10 per pound to GEO for large Space Elevators) will become insignificant in comparison.

For those anxious to go, however, the date for a manned Space Elevator service is about 10 years past the start of operations of the first Space Elevator - enough time to build destination hotels and gain experience operating the system - which is why we're not selling tickets just yet.

A neat depiction of a manned Space
Elevator, obviously a bit tight
for the five-day ride.
(Artist: Neil Johnson)

A roomier concept. Think "luxury railroad car".
(Screen shot from The Moment of Silence)

A Space Elevator GEO Station/Hotel
(Artist: Alan Chan)

So where would you like to go?

Your first destination will be the large space hotel and station at GEO. The view from GEO is quite spectacular - you are far enough from Earth to see all of it at once, but not far enough to make it small - the Earth will span about 30 degrees, or half your normal field of view. Since you'll be hovering over the pacific, you will see the rims of both America and Asia, and you will witness a normal 24-hour cycle on Earth, seeing both the play of clouds over the ocean in daylight, and the lights of the cities near the horizon at night. The moon will be somewhat larger, and a lot sharper in color.

There will be other installations at GEO, over different parts of the Earth - zero-g fabrication plants for making nanotechnology products, Solar Power Satellites, medical facilities - expect to see a lot of GEO-to-GEO traffic coming and going at the Space Elevator station.

Some passengers will be traveling on to further destinations. After clearing passport control, they will transfer to the interplanetary section of the GEO station, and board a second, much different Space Elevator car.

This car will depart the station and move further up the track towards space. As it does so, the passengers will start feeling gravity again, except it will be directed outwards and upwards! That trip will take several days as well, but is only the first leg in these passengers' journey.

Having arrived at a predetermined spot, the Space Elevator car will stop and wait, and at a carefully controlled time will detach from the cable. This is when its true nature will become apparent! Because of the rotation of the Space Elevator tether around the earth, the car will find itself being flung on an outwards trajectory, taking it on an interplanetary trip to the moon, Mars, or the asteroids!

The weightless flight to Mars will take several weeks (depending on the relative position of Earth and Mars), and will not be as easy on the passengers as the trip up from Earth - but these passengers are not mere tourists. They are settlers!

If you're lucky, you might see a return ship come by from the further reaches of the Solar system and dock - though we expect initially to have a lot more ship (with cargo and people) heading outwards towards the new worlds than ships coming back in!

© The Spaceward Foundation 2008 - - Mountain View, CA