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Like almost everyone else in the space vision business, the enthusiasts who foresee a "railway to space" are adjusting their high-flying dreams to fit down-to-earth realities. "We don't have all the questions, let alone all the answers," Michael Laine, head of the LiftPort Group, told an audience of about 50 people on Saturday during the 2009 Space Elevator Conference on Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Wash.
Still a laughable idea? The space elevator concept is one of the highest-flying ideas out there: Imagine a super-strong tether swinging out, say, 100,000 miles from Earth's surface, with laser-powered robots shuttling up and down from a ground- or sea-based station to an orbital platform. If such a thing could be built, the idea's proponents say the system could cut the cost of putting cargo into space from $10,000 to $100 per pound. The idea is at least a century old - and was most famously popularized by science-fiction guru Arthur C. Clarke, who once said the space elevator would succeed "50 years after everyone has stopped laughing."