Like all the conference attendees, he is buoyed by the privatization of space, seen recently in SpaceX launches, Paul Allen's Stratolaunch Systems, and the two test modules for expandable habitats that Bigelow Aerospace has placed in orbit. Laine is promoting an elevator from the lunar surface to a point in space between Earth and the moon, because the physics is kinder and at least five existing materials meet its requirements, including Zylon and Kevlar. A lunar tether would have the dimensions of dental floss, he says, and would be feasible with commercial, off-the-shelf technology—and perhaps $800 million.
One speaker at the conference said the elevator would be driven by those most prosaic of human motivations, greed and the opportunities to make money. Laine might once have agreed. “Eleven years ago when I started this, I was far more rational about it,” he says of his elevator quest. “But over time the making money part really dwindled, and it's become a mission,” a way to change the global standard of living with ubiquitous energy and access to resources such as raw minerals from asteroids, helium-3 from the moon, or oxygen, water and other lunar materials for space- or Mars-based habitats.
“But,” he concedes, “I'm well past rational at this point.” That stubborn persistence may be just what it takes if an elevator is ever to ferry humans into outer space.