MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF.--Picture a ribbon stronger than steel that stretches from Earth to the moon and acts as a kind of space highway, on which robots transport materials back and forth.
That is what scientists call the space elevator. And long before it's ever a reality--if it is at all--scientists must discover the materials, mechanisms and wireless power source to make it work efficiently.
Considering it's no small feat of optics, electricity and mechanics, NASA and the nonprofit Spaceward Foundation are hosting the first-ever competitions this weekend offering $50,000 to teams with the best design of robot climber and ribbon. The competition, to be held here at NASA's Ames Research Center, is merely a conceptual demonstration of the space elevator.
"It's far out for us, but we're very interested in the technologies involved," said Brant Sponberg, NASA project manager for the "centennial challenges," a series of government-sponsored competitions that support space exploration. Sponberg was overseeing setup and tests of the competition on Friday.
The "Beam Power" Challenge, which will kick off Saturday at 5 a.m. PST, will test the design and efficiency of robot climbers, machines that can ascend and descend a 50-meter tether ribbon while carrying a payload.