Monday, March 10, 2014

Review Of: "Pillar To The Sky" (William Forstchen)

William Forstchen is famous for having written a "survivalist" fiction novel about two years ago (One Second After), about what happens to a small town in Western North Carolina after the Iranains hit is with an EMP (eletromagnetic pulse which then shuts down the electric grid).  It is not pretty, but a splendid book.

Forstchen is a military historian and of technology.  He thinks big, at least in these latest two books (his One Second got Newt Gingrich´s attention (who wrote the Introduction, and the military has (finally) started hardening up its electronics).

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He has just written a new book Pillar to the Sky (2014).  This is a fictional account in "the near future" about putting up a "space elevator", a concept I have only recently heard of.  The general idea is that a high-tech" elevator" could take people and cargo up imto space much cheaper than the rockets we now use.  This subject did not attract my attention, though, because it was not obvious to me how it could be done, how much it would cost, etc.

Well, apparently the idea has gotten plenty of attention from aerospace and other technological people, including Forstchen.  Forsten was contacted by NASA to work with them (presumably to write a book, he is not explicit about what NASA asked him to do.  But, NASA has been looking for projects, and apparently this idea of a space elevator makes a lot of sense "by the numbers".  The upfront costs would be huge, this risks very high at the beginning, but once in place there would be enormous savings.  Also a good possibilty of solving the wrold´s energy problems!  I told you Forstchen thinks big...

I believe that Forstchen wants to publicize the idea of a "space elevator" (a "Pillar to the Sky" in his book) because it dies indeed look like the idea has tremendous merit.  I was more interested in the technology and the ideas, but he writes very movingly at points of tragedy (which he also did in his other book).

In brief, the technology and machinery describes is a little bit advanced, but apparently NASA and others think that this can work.

The story starts (I leave out the girl meets boy stuff that is seen in almost all fiction nowadays) with NASA on the verge of being defunded and the country (and world) sliding deeper into economic crisis.  The main character, an aerospce engineer goes to testify before Congress about this idea, and for the most part is rudely treated and told to buzz off after making a plea for funding the idea for NASA.  After that, a multi-billionaire invites him, his wife (also a space engineer) and their intrepid daughter to fly off to..., well, a country along the equator.  The rich man then has to find other investors (expensive...).

With a lot of the political crap you would expect (even privately funded with facilities in a foreign country) and hatred of the idea (by foreign oil exporters), they go ahead with the idea.  Agai in brief, they put up a space station in geosynchronous orbit from which they will drop carbon nanotubing starnds (very strong apparently) as well as send tubing up as well (for balance and for further use in the future (rg Mars space launches from there saving fuel, etc.).

Of course there are ups and downs along the way, including fatalities.  I will not go into these, as it would be far better for you to read the book itself.  Nor can I comment with authority on various points of the technology, but it all seems plasible to me.  Of course, the project is successfully completed in the end even with all the difficulties (hey, sad endings don´t sell very well, and Forstchen is openly encouragingactive examination and funding of this whole idea).

The first "Big Project" upon completion is putting up a large solar panel farm up there at geosynchronous and send the LARGE amounts of electricity back down to Earth.  LARGE amounts, enough to upset certain actors who (twice) take their shots at sabotaging the project.  (President Mix would have cracked down a lot harder on those guys than the fictional president does, just sayin´, naah, you do not want me as your president...).

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If this technology is almost ready, and if it would perform as advertised (and I doubt that Professor Forstchen would push a silly technology), then there would be a number of benefits:

1)  carbon nanotubing (a very interesting material would ge a big boost

2)  the problem of sending down electricity from space seems to be solvable

3)  cheap electricity for MANY countries becomes possible, and cutting energy costs

4)  in the longer term, space launches from"up there" become much cheaper

5)  and the cost of "space tourism would come down a LOT.

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In my opinion, the examination of the concept and technology are very worthwhile, way more so than the cost of the book and the time to read it.  Forstchen knocks another one out of the park.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes space, technology and "Big Picture" books.

1 comment:

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