12. September 2005 · Comments Off on Five Questions For Roberts · Categories: Politics, Science!

In today’s NYT, Glenn Reynolds lists five thought-provoking, and telling, questions he would like to see asked of Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts. My favorite is this:

3. Could a human-like artificial intelligence constitute a “person” for purposes of protection under the 14th Amendment, or is such protection limited, by the 14th Amendment’s language, to those who are “born or naturalized in the United States?”

I’m uncomfortable with Glenn’s unqualified use of “born or naturalized in the United States,” as decisions such as Plyer and Wong Wing have since extended equal protection to aliens as well. But the question is still valid, and one I have used, along with others, to discredit the “personhood begins at conception” argument of “pro-life” religious fundimentalists.

And, surely, this is the stuff of science fiction today (see Star Trek: The Next Generation; The Measure of a Man). But the Roberts Court is likely to extend many years into the future. And questions such as this are sure to come-up.

22. August 2005 · Comments Off on Captain General De Leon, Your Fountain Is Ready · Categories: Science!

Some interesting developments in stem cell research:

The technique uses laboratory-grown human embryonic stem cells — such as the ones that President Bush has already approved for use by federally funded researchers — to “reprogram” the genes in a person’s skin cell, turning that skin cell into an embryonic stem cell itself.

The approach — details of which are to be published this week in the journal Science but were made public on the journal’s Web site yesterday — is still in an early stage of development. But if further studies confirm its usefulness, it could offer an end run around the heated social and religious debate that has for years overshadowed the field of human embryonic stem cell research.

Since the new stem cells in this technique are essentially rejuvenated versions of a person’s own skin cells, the DNA in those new stem cells matches the DNA of the person who provided the skin cells. In theory at least, that means that any tissues grown from those newly minted stem cells could be transplanted into the person to treat a disease without much risk that they would be rejected, because they would constitute an exact genetic match.

All fanciful speculation about a fountain of youth aside, this is exciting enough on its own.

Hat Tip: InstaPundit

11. August 2005 · Comments Off on Launch Tower at Cape Canaveral Demolished · Categories: Air Force, Science!, The Final Frontier, Wild Blue Yonder

From Air Force Space Command News Service:

CAPE CANAVERAL AFS, Fla. – What took years to build took seconds to knock down Aug. 6 when 171 pounds of strategically placed explosives were detonated, toppling the historic 179-foot mobile service tower at Launch Complex 13 here.

The 1,300-ton structure was used to launch Atlas/Agena space launch vehicles in the 1960s and 1970s. The most famous of those launches were five Lunar Orbiter missions for NASA in 1966 and 1967. Those missions photographed about 99 percent of the moon’s surface and helped pave the way to men landing on the moon in 1969.

The pictures are pretty cool, but it’s a little sad to see this. I’m sure it’s tough to have to maintain an unused launch tower, but this was a piece of history, one of the monuments to our nation’s continuing pioneer spirit.

Fortunately, the towers at Launch Complex 39 are a little bigger and would be harder to take down. πŸ™‚

04. August 2005 · Comments Off on Intelligent Design vs Darwin · Categories: Good God, Science!

I don’t know and neither do you. These people are sure they’re right. So are these folks.

Faith is sure one way…science is pretty sure the other. Nobody really knows and at most it’s kind of fun to talk bout it but let’s get serious shall we?

06. June 2005 · Comments Off on Exciting New Stem Cell Development · Categories: Science!

I was watching Robert George, of the President’s Council on Bioethics, talk about this on C-SPAN this morning, and they had a nice graphic. I will try to find it, and post it as an update:

Now scientists are exploring methods for resetting the genetic switches inside various cells to the positions that will make them embryonic again. Both of the two major approaches now under study use existing embryonic stem cells (widely available from previously destroyed embryos and eligible for study using federal funds) to help ordinary cells become stem cells.

In one approach pioneered by Robert Lanza and colleagues at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., researchers pluck single cells from eight-cell embryos — embryos so young they do not have stem cells yet.

Fertility doctors have known for years that early embryos seem unfazed by the removal of any one of their eight virtually identical cells, called blastomeres. In fact, it is common today to remove a single, representative blastomere from a laboratory-conceived embryo and test that cell for disease genes before deciding whether to transfer that embryo into a woman’s womb.

Working with early mouse embryos, the team has found that single blastomeres, when cultivated in dishes with embryonic stem cells, can become what appear to be embryonic stem cells themselves. Chemicals secreted by the embryonic cells apparently flip the right genetic switches in the blastomeres to make them act “stemmy.”

About a quarter to one-third of blastomeres treated this way can be coaxed to become embryonic stem cells or closely related embryo cells, said Lanza, who declined to release specific data pending publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

I would recommend catching this segment, when it’s up on C-SPAN’s website. Professor George strikes me as one of the more reasonable and pragmatic members of the bioethics panel.

03. June 2005 · Comments Off on Re: The Case In Favor Of Fetal Stem Cell Research · Categories: Science!

This from BusinessWeek:

On June 6, a team of scientists will release results of a study that they believe could usher in a whole new way of treating heart disease. At a meeting for cardiologists, a surgeon from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York will describe what happened when stem cells taken from fetuses were injected into the hearts of 10 patients.

The patients in the study suffer from heart failure, a debilitating and as-yet incurable disease that afflicts 500,000 Americans. The data from the study can’t be unveiled quite yet, but Barnett Suskind, CEO of the Institute of Regenerative Medicine in Barbados, believes the results will “compel us to move forward with additional work.” Suskind, whose company provided funding for the study, says, “It’s absolutely a milestone.”

FRIENDLIER CLIMATE. Many more studies will have to be done before this treatment is anywhere near marketable. Still, Suskind’s enthusiasm underscores the growing interest in a controversial but therapeutically promising type of stem cell. So-called fetal-derived stem cells, such as those used in the recent heart study, aren’t subject to the same restrictions that limit federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. But because fetal cells are taken from aborted fetuses, they conjure up much of the emotion that has characterized the current debate in Washington. Critics of stem-cell research, in short, oppose any such research that they believe it requires the destruction of human life.

Read the whole thing.

02. June 2005 · Comments Off on Religious Extremism · Categories: Rant, Science!

You know, I get sick and tired of these religious extremists forcing their morality on us.

Oh? You thought I was talking about embryonic stem cells? Maybe abortion restrictions? Creationism? Or same-sex marriage?

No. I’m talking about those pesky Unitarians and their battle against global warming. Go read the column. You’ll learn of the great fight by Unitarians and folks like Emerson and Thoreau to end the scourge that was slavery (and you thought that maybe folks like William Wilberforce or Abraham Lincoln had something to do with it).

You’ll be treated to gems like this:

We eliminated the tyranny of slavery; now its time to eradicate the tyranny of fossil fuels.

These non-theist fundamentalists and their moral superiority! They think global warming is wrong. Don’t they know that only the Sith believe in absolutes?

Thanks to Marc at The Culture Wasteland for reminding me about this story in our local paper, and for his own insightful and charming commentary. He’s the smartest man in Asheville. And he makes reading the Citizen-Times so much more enjoyable.

31. May 2005 · Comments Off on It Makes No Sense · Categories: General Nonsense, Rant, Science!, The Funny

Sometime ago, I can’t get through the mess in the archives to find it, I wrote some kind of nonsense about some small unimportant thing that went wrong with my computer; I spent an inordinate amount of time fixing it, but was satisfied with the the result, so I forgot about it. Here we go again. I don’t know if it’s worth it this time, I’ve been sitting here trying to correct typing mistakes for the past 20 minutes, giggling about them, and trying to eat a port chip sandwich without choking on it.(OK, just one example. PORH CHOP, folks, PORK CHOP.) Nurse & chief inquisitor Jenny is asleep in the next room, and when she finds out about this post there’s gonna be hell to pay!!

What I’m mad about tonight though is the simplleat part of a computer, the thing that whould never fail, that one thing of perfection, the mouse! Now the durn thing is cowering over in the corner sniveling and shivering under the pork chop plate I threw at it, and I am about to go over and stomp the loiving (living, not loving) daylights out of the darned lthing. These things have only two finctions in life. They have an X axis and a Y axis, and they are supposed to run in those directions when the thing is moved that way. What in the heck is so hard about that? No one shoulfdhave to fire or kill louses – mouses – for being incompetent! Why, it’s no harder than getting the right lette3r on the slcreen when it isw typed! You don’t see keyboards always getting fired do you?

I’m gonna finish my sandwafch and go kill that dang mouse, then I can get my work done.

27. May 2005 · Comments Off on Our Last Words · Categories: Science!, World

…could be, “The bird flu?”

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US health authorities are taking urgent precautions against a ‘flu pandemic’ that experts warned could erupt at any time and claim tens of thousands of lives.

Top health officials here warned that the United States was ill-prepared to counter a pandemic which could come from a mutation of the bird flu H5N1 that has badly hit Asia.

Their warnings came as European researchers are also warned this week that hundreds of millions could die around the globe if a mutated bird flu, helped by jet travel and open borders, emerges and sweeps the world.

I read a lot, and a lot of Science Fiction, and these days there’s just enough fact thrown into the mix just to keep you on your toes. The super volcanoe that’s just waiting to blow under Yellowstone. The fact that the sun, bringer of warm breezes and maybe an occaissional sunburn, is a giant freaking series of nuclear explosions going off in our very immediate galactic neighborhood has fueled more than one writer’s head. And lets not forget about Global Warming least we offend those who pray at the alter of environmentalism. All fuel and fodder for the science fiction author who wants to add a little oomph to the story to “keep it real dawg, a’ight.” (??? Randy?)

But ya know, it’s always the weird stuff that really gets us, not the sexy cool stuff. Bird Flu. We could possibly be devasted by Bird Flu.

Because of places I’ve worked and exercises I’ve participated in, I know a bit about the spread of diseases. Back in the stone age I had to physically pick a slide up off a projector and replace it with the next one in a smooth and “professional” manner. God help me, I used to be proud of this skill. But I’ve sat through more disaster preparedness (natural and created) briefings than I care to imagine and the first folks to get sick in cases like this are the transporters; Airline crews and truckers and frequent flyers. Folks who come into contact with a LOT of other folks every day. Yes…they transport the disease as well but they also get sick first so guess what? Lots of stuff that we depend on to move from point A to point B doesn’t move because the timing is just so that they’re getting REAL sick just as the rest of us are starting to think, “My God I feel like I’ve been ate by a bear and shite down a hole.” Stuff stops moving just as we’re starting to need lots of stuff. It would make life interesting.

Bird Flu? Doesn’t seem right does it? I’m thinkin’ I’d prefer a meteor or a series of continent shifting earthquakes or a super x-ray fueled gravity pulse from the surface of Mars. Bird Flu sounds so cheezy. No, Asian Avian Flu doesn’t make it any better.

25. May 2005 · Comments Off on Leon Kass Interview · Categories: Politics, Science!

Marc Strassman has just interviewed Dr. Leon Kass, Chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics. The introductory page is here. In case you have problems finding the link to the interview (a 16.8mb Winamp file), it is here.

Comments forthcoming. The interview is about 37 minutes long, and my computer keeps freezing when I pause. So I need to make the time to listen straight through.

This is really a must-listen for those needing a primer on the matters of stem-cell research and cloning. And it’s important that the differentiation be made.

The issue is that of life begins at conception. Most embryonic stem-cell research involves cell derived from eggs fertilized by a sperm – “conception”. Cloned embryos, on the other hand, are created by replacing the nucleus of a egg cell with a donor nucleus; the DNA is entirely that of the donor.

With the, a principle argument of the Right to Life crowd collapses, in that the cloned blastocyst is no “unique”; it is not biologically distinct from any other tissue sample taken from the donor.

18. April 2005 · Comments Off on This Is Mo’ Cool! · Categories: General Nonsense, Science!, Technology

Several months ago when I set up the wireless net in/around my house to service my newly-purchased laptop, I wrote of my joy in this post . The wireless system I went with at the time was the 802.11B, which advertises data transfer rates of up to 11 MB. I was fairly pleased with how well it worked, but something kept gnawing at me, things could be better.

Having problems getting comments and posts to work, I later purchased the 802.11G adapter for the laptop, which advertises a 54 MB speed, and the problem, for the most part, went away. But with this small mismatch, I began to realize that the system was limited by the speed of the wireless router, the slowest part of the system and the data bottleneck here. So last week, when I was in the BX, dreaming of new, high-speed computers with super capabilities, and of laptops that were new out of the box (mine came from ebay, used and cheap, but I can’t complain, I got a really good deal.), my eyes fell upon an 802.llG wireless router, and I thought, it being payday and so, hmmm, let’s get that puppy and boost the laptop speed!

Leaving the BX with my new jewel under my arm, I made the required stop by the commissary and my favorite off-base Korean restaurant for Kimchee and pulkogi, and with baited (!!) breath headed for home. After brushing my hair and combing my teeth, I started on installing the router. At first I had some mismatch problems, with the laptop not recognizing the router, but after uninstalling the adapter and re-installing it, it found the router and we were off to the races. Yep, it is noticeably faster. I don’t know what the speed works out to, but I can tell the difference between it and the “B” model. So, if you’re thinking of setting up a home wireless net, go ahead and spend the extra money for the “G” model, you’ll be much better pleased with

MO’ Powah!

Hey, anybody want to buy a used 802.11B wireless system in like new condition?


11. April 2005 · Comments Off on Senator Brownback’s Attack On Cloning · Categories: Politics, Science!

Marc Strassman has a very good article on Sam Brownback’s bill to ban all human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic:

On March 17, 2005, U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) introduced the “Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2005,” (S. 658) which would definitively prohibit human cloning (also referred to in this legislation as “somatic cell nuclear transfer”) within the United States, whether such cloning was intended for reproductive or research purposes.

Indeed, Senator Brownback believes that there is no meaningful distinction between “reproductive” human cloning and human cloning for “research” purposes. In a press release issued by his office to accompany the introduction of S. 658 on March 17, 2005, Senator Brownback said:

“All human cloning is reproductive. What we must decide as a society is what do we do with the young, cloned human? We have yet to collectively answer the ethical questions involved with implanting that clone or destroying it for research.”

In another, more recent press release, Senator Brownback declared his equally strong opposition to any effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to reconsider the current ban on “federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research,” saying:

“If legislation to expand taxpayer funding of destructive human embryonic stem cell research comes before the Senate in the coming weeks or months, I will use all legislative options available to defeat it.

“I oppose destructive embryonic stem cell research because it results in the untimely termination of a young human life. To expand taxpayer funding of human embryo-destructive research is wrong, and it cruelly plays on the hopes and fears of those suffering from illness and disease. We should shift taxpayer funds to non-destructive, ethically-sound research that is resulting in real treatments and real cures for real people.”

The failure of the so-called “Right To Life” crowd to differentiate between therapeutic and reproductive cloning is truly disturbing. For more background, check out this round-up at Reason Magazine.

11. February 2005 · Comments Off on I Wonder If It Ever Gets Indigestion? · Categories: Science!

I thought I could eat fast. But I don’t hold a candle to the Star-Nosed Mole:

Star-Nosed Mole

The star-nosed mole gives a whole new meaning to the term “fast food.”

A study published this week in the journal Nature reveals that this mysterious mole has moves that can put the best magician to shame: The energetic burrower can detect small prey animals and gulp them down with a speed that is literally too fast for the human eye to follow.

It takes a car driver about 650 milliseconds to hit the brake after seeing the traffic light ahead turn red. The star-nosed mole, operating in the Stygian darkness of its burrow, can detect the presence of a tasty tidbit, such as an insect larva or tiny worm, determine that it is edible and gulp it down in half that time.

“Most predators take times ranging from minutes to seconds to handle their prey,” says Kenneth C. Catania, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt, who conducted the study. “The only things I’ve found that come even close are some species of fish,” he says.

Perhaps I could enter one in next year’s Philidelphia Wing Bowl. πŸ™‚

04. February 2005 · Comments Off on Taking Sides In The Larry Summers “Sexism” Affair · Categories: Science!

TNR’s Martin Peretz is on Summers’ side:

No one serious has called Summers a sexist. (Not even Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at MIT, who said that, if she hadn’t walked out, she would have fainted or barfed.) Which is appropriate, since sexism had nothing to do with his controversial statements. What led him to wonder whether there might be small genetic variations between men and women in quantitative capacity, I suspect, was his genuine surprise that women have not risen in the fields of physics, engineering, and mathematics as fast as he thinks they could and should. He isn’t in the least bit oblivious to the lingering prejudices against women in the academy. (After all, his mother is a retired professor of public policy at the Wharton School of Business and his “significant other,” Elisa New, is a professor of English at Harvard and a valued contributor to THE NEW REPUBLIC.)

Summers’s “problem” is that he submits every argument with a grain of evidence behind it to serious and scrupulous scrutiny. And this scares our supposedly daring academic culture, which lives in fear of what it refuses to know. As yet another of Curie’s biographers suggested, “She had survived because she had made men believe that they were not just dealing with an equal, but with an insensitive equal.” Summers knows that the age of such painful self-denial is gone, and good riddance. Still, the academy is the academy; it is not a community center. Students ought to know more than they do, and it is on Summers’s agenda that they will. No American university has yet truly grasped how the revelations of science touch on history and art, philosophy and poetry, and it is on Summers’s agenda that at least Harvard will try. In all this, he imperils the unexamined orthodoxies of the ensconced. And now, his enemies see a chance to counterattack. Let’s hope they fail and he succeeds.

I take Summers’ side as well. There exists precious little research on the matter. But, as John Stossel shows, what exists suggests strongly that, over the general population, there are indeed congenital cognative differences between the sexes:

Some scientists have already done research on gender differences. There was a study at the University of Rochester in New York, for example, where men and women were blindfolded and guided through tunnels under the campus. They were then asked to say where a particular building was. Men typically gave directions. Women typically couldn’t.

For a study at York University in Toronto, Ont., students were asked to wait in a cluttered room and then were asked elsewhere about its contents. Women typically gave detailed answers. Men typically couldn’t.

Even newborn boys and girls behave differently. June Reinisch, a psychologist and former director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, says differences can be seen even in the first 72 hours of life: “Males startle more than females. If you give a little puff of air on their abdomen, they startle much bigger and (are) much more likely to startle than females, and females rhythmically mouth, they suck on their tongues, they move their lips and so forth, more than males do.” Is anyone going to tell me that 3-day-old infants have already been taught to conform to society’s preconceived gender roles?

But so little research exists because, since the “women’s movement”, the very consideration of such a proposition has been taboo.

28. January 2005 · Comments Off on Another Mickey Mouse Idea · Categories: General Nonsense, Science!

Stryker has fun with science:

“For example, an experiment that would raise concerns, he said, is genetically engineering mice to produce human sperm and eggs, then doing in vitro fertilization to produce a child whose parents are a pair of mice.”

Attention Scientific Community: If the idea sounds like it came from a mad scientist as played by Marlon Brando in Gramma’s Housedress…perhaps it’s not the best idea.

Narf! He kills me…

01. January 2005 · Comments Off on Top Science Stories Of 2004 · Categories: Science!

Discover magazine has published their list of 100 Top Science Stories of 2004. Many of them I find quite exciting:

2. SpaceShipOne Opens Private Rocket Era
19. Two New Elements Discovered
36. New State of Matter Could Lead to Practical Superconductors
65. Black Holes Revealed As Forces of Creation
82. Astronomers Measure Cosmos Width: 156 Billion Light-Years
83. Atomic Clock Shrunk

Of course, their top one I don’t. Neither does Richard A. Galen:

Evidence of global warming became so overwhelming in 2004 that now the question is: What can we do about it?

* Deep in the article, Discover points out that Swiss researchers claim the summer of 2003 was “the hottest in Europe since 1500.”

* Wait. What? Since 1500? What was going on in 1500? Were oxen — the SUVs of the age — belching greenhouse gasses at an alarming rate? The Renaissance was in full bloom, but did Leonardo da Vinci code for global warming?

* Maybe there’s nothing we can — or need to — do. In the 42nd -biggest science story of the year, the Discover magazine editors, without any sense of irony, write that 620 million years ago, “the global Marinoan glaciation — a great environmental calamity … entombed the planet in ice for several million years.”

* A major shift in weather that apparently occurred without the interference of human — or almost any other type of — beings.

* The 77th-biggest scientific scoop of the year was that the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago caused a “nuclear winter” which allowed the land to begin warming after about five years but which kept deep ocean temperatures well below normal for “another two millennia.”

* If that is the case, then NASA’s recent announcement that an asteroid measuring a bit more than a quarter mile across might collide with the Earth on April 13, 2029, would repair whatever atmospheric damage the Mullmobile has been doing for the past five years.

* Last one: The 95th most important science story of 2004, according to Discover Mag, holds that 30,000 years ago, humans arrived in North America over a land bridge from Siberia which existed “before glaciers closed off the route at the height of the last ice age.”

* No global warming 30,000 years ago, no casinos on Indian reservations in 2004.

* See the pattern emerging here? Cold weather — bad. Warm weather — good.

* One of the few things former Vice President Al Gore and I agreed upon was whether or not there is global warming. We parted company in that I think global warming is a good thing. I don’t like cold weather. Most people don’t like cold weather.

* It’s why they made Florida.

17. December 2004 · Comments Off on The Inuit Lawsuit · Categories: General, Science!

This had slipped by me until I just heard about it on CNBC’s Dennis Miller

The Eskimos, or Inuit, about 155,000 seal-hunting peoples scattered around the Arctic, plan to seek a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the United States, by contributing substantially to global warming, is threatening their existence.

The Inuit plan is part of a broader shift in the debate over human-caused climate change evident among participants in the 10th round of international talks taking place in Buenos Aires aimed at averting dangerous human interference with the climate system.

Inuit leaders said they planned to announce the effort at the climate meeting today.

Representatives of poor countries and communities – from the Arctic fringes to the atolls of the tropics to the flanks of the Himalayas – say they are imperiled by rising temperatures and seas through no fault of their own. They are casting the issue as no longer simply an environmental problem but as an assault on their basic human rights.

Such a petition could have decent prospects now that industrial countries, including the United States, have concluded in recent reports and studies that warming linked to heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe emissions is contributing to big environmental changes in the Arctic, a number of experts said.

Last month, an assessment of Arctic climate change by 300 scientists for the eight countries with Arctic territory, including the United States, concluded that “human influences” are now the dominant factor.

Inuit representatives attending the conference said in telephone interviews that after studying the matter for several years with the help of environmental lawyers they would this spring begin the lengthy process of filing a petition by collecting videotaped statements from elders and hunters about the effects they were experiencing from the shrinking northern icescape.

This could be the ultimate pseudo-science class-action lawsuit. Of course, the “no empty chair” theory says that the United States should not be the only defendant.

25. September 2004 · Comments Off on Coming Soon To a Med Lab Near You: A Dog · Categories: General, Science!

This is really amazing:

Sept. 24, 2004 β€” For years, dog owners have been informing their doctors about the apparent disease-detecting ability of their pets, and today those claims gain some credibility with the release of the first ever peer-reviewed scientific study showing that dogs can smell cancer.

The paper, published in the British Medical Journal, tested whether canines could sniff out bladder cancer within urine samples. The researchers believe dogs probably can smell other cancers and diseases, such as tuberculosis.

But I ask, with all these wonderous things we can train dogs to do, why do we need $50,000 dynamometers to do smog checks? πŸ˜€

29. August 2004 · Comments Off on For Those That Liked Toy Trains, Slot Cars, And Arthur C. Clarke… · Categories: Science!

As well as science projects, this competition may be right up your alley:

Enthusiasts on Friday unveiled an effort to establish an annual competition for space-elevator technologies, taking a page from the playbook for other high-tech contests such as the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Many of the details surrounding the “Elevator:2010” challenge β€” including financing β€” still have to be fleshed out, however.

The project, spearheaded by the California-based Spaceward Foundation, would focus on innovations in fields that could open the way for payloads to be lifted into space by light-powered platforms. Such platforms, also known as climbers, would move up and down superstrong ribbons rising as high as 62,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.

From fiction to fact
The space elevator concept goes back to vintage science fiction β€” with emphasis on the “fiction.” But in the past couple of years, researchers at institutions such as Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center have been looking into ways to turn the idea into reality.

β€˜We firmly believe that the set of technologies that underlie the infinite promise of the space elevator can be demonstrated, or proven infeasible, within a five-year time frame.’

If space elevators could actually be built, the cost of sending payloads into space could be reduced from $10,000 or more per pound (455 grams) to $100 or less β€” opening up a revolutionary route to the final frontier. Like the X Prize for private spaceflight, Elevator:2010 is aimed at jump-starting the revolution.

“We firmly believe that the set of technologies that underlie the infinite promise of the space elevator can be demonstrated, or proven infeasible, within a five-year time frame,” the Web site for the competition declares. “And hence our name. Elevator:2010. We promise to get an answer for you by then.”

In order to work, the elevator’s ribbons would have to be made of materials stronger than any that exist today; carbon nanotube composites are the current favorites. Conventional rockets would launch components of the elevator, which would be anchored to an Earth station to form a bridge to outer space.

Most of the current schemes call for the climbers to be powered by sunlight and/or intense artificial light focused onto photoelectric cells. The climbers would ride on the ribbons like rail cars.

Enlisting student teams
Elevator:2010 seeks to encourage technology development through annual contests that start small: One contest would pit climber prototypes against each other in races up a roughly 200-foot (60-meter) ribbon. A second contest would focus on developing better materials for the ribbons, and a third would encourage construction of power-beaming systems.

The first competition is tentatively scheduled for next June or July in the San Francisco Bay area, said Ben Shelef, a member of the Elevator:2010 team. That time frame would give student teams at universities enough time to build light-powered climbers β€” just as teams of engineering students build solar-powered vehicles during the school year for the American Solar Challenge.

“We’ve gotten feedback from the universities, so we know it’s feasible,” Shelef said. “It’s the same thing as the solar cars, but on steroids.”

The fastest-moving climber would earn its team a $50,000 prize, with a $20,000 second prize and a $10,000 third prize. The strongest ribbon would win a $10,000 first prize, and the best power-beaming system could win $10,000.

Details of the ribbon and power-beaming competitions have yet to be fleshed out, and the financial foundation of the entire challenge depends on sponsorships yet to be announced. The Silicon Valley mechanical design company where Shelef works, Gizmonics Inc., is listed as an initial sponsor.

Actually, if anyone is interested in talking to me about collaborating on this project, I have some ideas.

Hat Tip: Instapundit.