Richard L. Garwin
 Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology
    Council on Foreign Relations, 58 East 68th Street
                   New York, NY  10021
           (212) 434-9663; FAX: (914) 945-4419
               INTERNET: rgarwin at

                                         September 26, 2003
                      (Via Email to overbye at

Mr. Dennis Overbye
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY  10036

Dear Dennis Overbye,

Re "An Elevator to Space" (September 23) proposing to build
two carbon-fiber strands to beyond geosynchronous altitude,
there is nothing impossible about this.  But its utility is
minimal.  First, climbing such a strand to the altitude of
the most numerous low-Earth orbit satellites (LEO) at an
altitude of 300 km or so would not help to put a mass into
orbit.  It would need to gain a speed of almost eight
kilometers per second.  Climbing to 300 km at zero speed is
best done with a small rocket; but in either case, achieving
orbital speed is the major task.

Furthermore, we have perfectly good and efficient means of
putting satellites into orbit--even into geostationary
orbit.  My 1988 piece "Space Technology: Myth and Promise" notes that for
satellite launch to LEO the fraction of the mass put into
orbit is only a few percent of the launch mass, but more
than 62% of the total energy in the rocket fuel is present
in the kinetic energy of the payload.  It would be very hard
to do nearly so well as this with the conversion of any kind
of energy into laser power and the reconversion of that into
motive power for climbing the space elevator.

What we need is competition in putting small masses into
orbit, and that can be achieved far more cheaply than to
make the major investment for a space elevator which is, in
any case, of very limited utility and will not reduce the
cost of launch to orbit.

Sincerely yours,

Richard L. Garwin
Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology
Council on Foreign Relations, New York