Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Like Discovering a New World

It is a pleasure to work with people like Tom.
On my way home from the SAMPE presentation Tuesday night, it struck me again how amazing it is to work on the space elevator. In a way, it’s sort of the engineering equivalent of being among the first few scientists to work in a new field, sort of like the first physicists to work on quantum mechanics. Despite the work of Artsutanov, Pearson, Edwards, and others, the design of space elevators and issues surrounding it are still in their infancy, ripe for anyone to come along and make progress. Working out these issues feels more like discovery than simple number-crunching, and is at least part of the reason why so many people get so excited about the SE. And because so many of the SE issues rely on well-understood engineering principles, they can be tackled by a much wider group of people than could, say, the early development of quantum mechanics.

But the SE is even more useful as a learning tool. Even if students replicate prior work, doing homework problems that are centered on the space elevator would, in many cases, be more “fresh” and interesting than some older problem sets. Which would you rather have assigned as a homework problem: Working out the stresses in a steel bridge, or in a carbon-nanotube space elevator ribbon?
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