It sounds like something out of a science fiction film, but a very real "space elevator" is being developed by researchers at Japan's Shizuoka University, and the first test is coming this month. A miniature stand-in for the real thing will be attached to a rocket and launched by Japan's space agency next week, reports AFP. Once in space, the motorized 2.4-inch-long box will travel along a 32-foot-long cable held taut between two satellites, while cameras monitor its movement. "It's going to be the world's first experiment to test elevator movement in space," a university spokesperson says.
A space elevator, the idea of which was first proposed by a Russian scientist in 1895, would travel to a space station via cables connecting the station to Earth, and could drastically reduce the cost of getting cargo to space, CNET explains. But there are a number of technical obstacles, including the need to develop cables that can resist high-energy cosmic rays, the need to keep space debris and meteorites from colliding with the elevator, and the need to transmit electricity from Earth to space. Japanese construction firm Obayashi, which is acting as the technical advisor for researchers on this project, plans to build its own space elevator to allow tourists to reach space by 2050. (A Canadian company is also working on its own space elevator.)