Williamsburg doesn't need a space elevator, or so says a flyer now found on the streets of this Brooklyn community. Boing Boing has already mentioned this, but I thought I'd post about it for a slightly different reason. While it's a nice bit of activist memetics, what struck me when I saw it was that this is an example of Marx's famous phrase ("history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce") turned on its head. This call for protests against the building of a space elevator is political satire, aimed at luxury high rise development, but I have no doubt we'll see similar protests against the construction of a real space elevator. People will fear pollution from nanoparticles used in construction, the risks of an accident (and since the equator is the best location for a space elevator, any accident could hurt those who live along the equator -- i.e., the poor -- the most), and yes, even problems of "Less Parking, Weird Ribbon Thing, Constant Loud Whirring Noise, Increased Space Elevator Truck Traffic." Many of those fears will be unsubstantiated, but we will see protests nonetheless. F.E.T.S.E.o.t.N (Fight Extremely Tall Space Elevators on the Northside) should be thanked for giving us this little glimpse at tomorrow.
Of course, Brooklyn has the Gowanus Canal, besides which even a space elevator woven out of PCBs and plutonium would look benign.
At the risk of seeming stuck in a fluctuation in the space-time continuum, I must admit that I'm a Williamsburger who found this flyer perplexing. At first I admired it as an attack on developers. Then I began to wonder whether it wasn't actually ridiculing neighborhood residents for being against almost any change in the community. Then I began to wonder about the role of art in poor people's struggles. I guess this means the flyer was successful. But here's the thing: it probably mystifies most people in the community. Sadly, artists seem to like staying above the fray.
Stefan, the Gowanus is a health spa compared to Newtown Creek. Check out the info at the Newtown Creek Alliance.
I thought space elevators were crazy, now I'm not so sure. Brad Edwards ribbon design is much much lighter that Clarke's design that looks like a mountain 25,000 miles high. If that falls it will create a huge disaster. The smaller space elevator
is constructed of buckytube ribbons embedded in polyethylene plastic. If the small asteroid at the end is dislodged, the ribbon will flutter to the ground harmlessly. Edwards design has other problems though. The plastic is conductive and lightning strike might burn it up. Lightning can strike it from clouds 30,000 feet up and lower.
The flat sheets will catch the wind and wind might blow it off course.
The big rock at the end of the tether might fall back onto the Earth like a natural asteroid if a plane hits the space elevator's ribbon, pulling the asteroid at the end lower. It might hit a city. Terrorists might hit it with an airplane on purpose. Strong winds in the sratosphere blow 150 miles per hour. They will ruin the composite ribbon structure, twisting it around itself making it useless for lifing space elevators. A bumpy rope might enable a ratchet device to lift it up like a person climbing a knotted rope.
The dynamics of the space elevator are such (i.e. that the cable experiences considerable tensile, not compressive forces), mean that even in the event of a complete severing, the counterweight (which would actually probably be made up of discarded elevator cars), would fly off into space, not fall to Earth. For a plane to pull the counterweight down, it would have to do the impossible: pull the ribbon along sideways for tens of thousands of kilometers. The tensile forces will also keep the ribbon from kinking, in much the same way that spinning a yo-yo around your head will pull the string taut.