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For University of Idaho students, rocket science is "so last decade." In the new millennium, the buzz is about space elevators.
From the moment he heard about it, mechanical engineering student Jason Stirpe was drawn to the NASA Space Elevator competition's unparalleled engineering challenge, and its $500,000 prize.
Stirpe and teammates put together a proposal seeking $2,500 from the College of Engineering to cover NASA's entry fee, and Engineering Dean Aicha Elshabini awarded the funds.
"It's a really intriguing challenge to take the concept of a space elevator from science fiction to science fact," said Stirpe. "The physics behind it is as if you take a yo-yo and swing it around. The mass on the end being thrust outward keeps the string taut," Stirpe explained.
But the devil is in the details: NASA and other scientists envision constructing a "planet-sized yo-yo" and attaching it to a futuristic carbon nanotubing ribbon/string about 22,000 miles long.
Once it is firmly attached to a platform on earth, proponents hope to beam people and payloads up the super strong ribbon using robot climbers propelled by lasers.
The competition is designed to train young visionaries who will bring the concept to life.
The Idaho team is made up of four mechanical engineering students and three electrical engineering students. They are working to create an innovative climber and beamed power source, and will compete in the Power Beaming/Climber category at the 2008 Annual Space Elevator Games.
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