Google designed an elevator to take us to space ... there's just one problem

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Apr 18, 2014, 12:42 PM EDT (Updated)

For a company best known for search and cellphones, Google also researches all kinds of crazy tech stuff — including (apparently) an elevator to space. Seriously.

It was recently revealed that Google X, which is basically the company’s skunkworks division, put research and development resources into a legit space elevator at one point in the not-too-distant past. The best part? It sounds like they figured it out.

Google X's Rapid Evaluation team leader Rich DeVaul told Fast Company their design would be able to take a person from ground to orbit with “a net of basically zero energy.” DeVaul said his team viewed the project as a way to drive down space-access costs with something that has incredibly low operational costs.

There’s just one problem: They have a plan to build the device, but the materials needed haven’t actually been perfected. At least, not yet. A reliable elevator of that size would require a cable at least 100 times stronger than the strongest steel in existence. Carbon nanotubes would do the trick, but no one has figured out how to manufacture a perfectly formed one longer than a meter.

To reach orbit, it’d need to be a heck of a lot longer than a meter. But there’s still hope — apparently Google’s team is keeping an eye on potential advances in carbon nanotube technology, in hopes someone will figure out how to make the materials they’d need.

What do you think? Is an elevator to space our best option to get folks up there?

(Via Fast Company; awesome, unrelated space elevator art via Universe Today)