Start with a picture:
Now, 30 years after “2001″ author Arthur C. Clarke wrote about an elevator that rises into outer space, serious research is happening all over the world in an effort to make the far-fetched-sounding idea a reality.[Source]
NASA has put of some nice money for reasearch into a scaled down model of an elevator. The projected elevator will carry material, stuff, humans, crafts theoretically into space. The science is sound, the technology is reasonable, making it is another story. The length of the elevator cable, some 22,000 miles long is the primary challenge. The material is the question, and most likely will need to be some form of the carbon nano tube structure. How to make 22,000 miles of carbon nano tubes is the technological question. Ultimately the 22,000 miles of cable will lift an elevator 13 miles above the Earth’s surface. From there getting further into space is substantially easier than leaving directly from the ground.
The net goal is to lift material to 13 miles above the surface using a quantity of energy that is less than the chemical energy currently required for rockets. I think the elevator will use some sort of laser technology to beam energy to the platform as it rises upwards. It could use electricity through the cable itself. Maybe at lower altitudes lasers can be used to heat air under the platform, and air pressure itself can be used to assist the ascent.
Overall quite interesting.