Could space travel be just an elevator ride away? Science fiction author Neal Stephenson is teaming up with Arizona State University scientists and engineers to develop a concept for the tallest tower on earth. If built, the 12.4 mile high (20 km) skyscraper would be 24 times as tall as the world’s tallest skyscraper, the 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa, and could become the cheapest way to launch objects into outer space.
The Tall Tower project is part of Project Hieroglyph, a program at ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination that encourages the sciences to think and dream big. To push the boundaries of human reality and innovation, Project Hieroglyph matches popular science fiction writers with scientists and engineers.
Like most ambitious projects, Project Hieroglyph’s Tall Tower project started with a simple question: how tall can we build something? According to structural engineer Keith Hjelmstad, building a 12.4 mile tall skyscraper could be possible if they used high-grade steel. They would still, however, need to address the challenge of wind pressure, which increases in strength at higher altitudes.
Images via Project Hieroglyph