According to New Scientist, “a handful of entrepreneurs” want to “step into a small airtight box, push a button marked ‘space’, and ride an elevator all the way up a cable reaching far into the sky.”
In early 2006 the engineering firm LiftPort “successfully unrolled a 1.6-kilometre-long carbon ribbon in the skies above Arizona, stretched it taut using helium-filled balloons and sent a robotic climber scrambling up part of its length. The company aims to build a functioning space elevator by 2018.”
This vision – of insectile machines climbing braided metal ropes into the sky – sounds like some kind of science fictionalization of Aztec mythology; but it’s also about to become a technological reality.
Apparently a “19th-century Russian space visionary” named Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first came up with the idea, proposing “a ‘celestial castle’ in space at the end of a spindly tower, to be reached by humans in an elevator running up and down the tower’s length.” And so on and so on.
Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about cathedral architecture, and about the apparent lack of structural ideas in contemporary Christian architecture, and I’ve become very interested in the idea that elevators could be used as prayer chapels – vertically nomadic radial spaces in which the pious, or simply those who’ve been abandoned by the world, could spend time alone and think. So the question is: could you reinvigorate interest in Christianity, say, by constructing a kind of space cathedral – a geostationary extension of Notre-Dame, an earthless Vatican – made of nothing but tethered elevators: glass spaces, filled with sculpture and light, riding up and down throughout the atmosphere? Or a space mosque, for that matter, a space synagogue?
A cathedral made entirely from glass elevators is certainly not a technical challenge; it shouldn’t even be a question of budget or funding.
In the city distance somewhere twenty years from now you see a shimmering mirage: a cathedral of glass and steel and its ten thousand elevator-chapels, each riding magneto-pneumatic enginery into space…
From earth to the moon: a night in the Sistine Elevator.