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September 21st, 2008
Now the finest scientific minds of Japan are devoting themselves to cracking the greatest sci-fi vision of all: the space elevator. Man has so far conquered space by painfully and inefficiently blasting himself out of the atmosphere but the 21st century should bring a more leisurely ride to the final frontier.
The biggest obstacle lies in the cables. To extend the elevator to a stationary satellite from the Earth's surface would require twice that length of cable to reach a counterweight, ensuring that the cable maintains its tension.
The cable must be exceptionally light, staggeringly strong and able to withstand all projectiles thrown at it inside and outside the atmosphere. The answer, according to the groups working on designs, will lie in carbon nanotubes - microscopic particles that can be formed into fibres and whose mass production is now a focus of Japan's big textile companies.
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