An Earth-to-orbit elevator became all the more plausible last week with the successful test of a "climber" robot -- the moving part of an elevator system. The test, organized by the LiftPort group, had the robot climb a thousand feet into the air on a ribbon attached to a high-altitude balloon. LiftPort notes that this was the first-ever use of the climbing technology on a free-hanging ribbon.
This LiftPort climber is a huge advance; design and construction of a device able to climb a ribbon is just as important -- and nearly as difficult -- as producing the carbon nanotube-based elevator ribbon. And while a thousand feet is a tiny fraction of the eventual length of the LiftPort elevator (100,000 kilometers), this development is still a pretty big step forward.