So the Google X hoverboard was shelved. “When we let it go, it’s a positive thing,” DeVaul says. “We’re saying, ‘This is great: Now we get to work on other things.’”
Like space elevators, something X was widely rumored to be working on but has never confirmed until now. “You know what a space elevator is, right?” DeVaul asks. He ticks off the essential facts–a cable attached to a satellite fixed in space, tens of thousands of miles above Earth. To DeVaul, it would no doubt satisfy the X criteria of something straight out of sci-fi. And it would presumably be transformative by reducing space travel to a fraction of its present cost: Transport ships would clip on to the cable and cruise up to a space station. One could go up while another was heading down. “It would be a massive capital investment,” DeVaul says, but after that “it could take you from ground to orbit with a net of basically zero energy. It drives down the space-access costs, operationally, to being incredibly low.”
Not surprisingly, the team encountered a stumbling block. If scaling problems are what brought hoverboards down to earth, material-science issues crashed the space elevator. The team knew the cable would have to be exceptionally strong– “at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel that we have,” by Piponi’s calculations. He found one material that could do this: carbon nanotubes. But no one has manufactured a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter. And so elevators “were put in a deep freeze,” as Heinrich says, and the team decided to keep tabs on any advances in the carbon nanotube field.
…the hero’s journey in the Marvel Universe is more complicated than successive trips around the same wheel that Joseph Campbell brought back as his boon and Christopher Vogler turned into a generic plot creation device.Read more "Charting the Cosmic Hero’s Journey"