When you finally take that lunar vacation, you may find yourself traveling not by space shuttle, but by elevator. Space elevators may be our best bet for establishing colonies on the moon, potentially able to transport people and materials more far cheaply and efficiently than propulsion-based spacecraft. The actual construction of such an elevator doesn't appear on NASA's roadmap until 2200, but a Japanese group reports that we could be lifting cargo and people to the moon in just a few decades.Japan has made the development of space elevator technology a priority as part of the country's long-term space development plans. The Japan Space Elevator Association was created to promote and educate the public on the creation of a space elevator:

Up and down the 22,000 mile-long (36,000km) cables - or flat ribbons - will run the elevator carriages, themselves requiring huge breakthroughs in engineering to which the biggest Japanese companies and universities have turned their collective attention.

The JSEA believes that the entire space elevator could eventually be constructed for as little as one trillion yen (less than $10 billion). The elevator presents certain engineering challenges that have yet to be solved, but Japan is drawing on a wide range of industries to tackle them:

The biggest obstacle lies in the cables. To extend the elevator to a stationary satellite from the Earth's surface would require twice that length of cable to reach a counterweight, ensuring that the cable maintains its tension. The cable must be exceptionally light, staggeringly strong and able to withstand all projectiles thrown at it inside and outside the atmosphere. The answer, according to the groups working on designs, will lie in carbon nanotubes - microscopic particles that can be formed into fibres and whose mass production is now a focus of Japan's big textile companies... Equally, there is the issue of powering the carriages as they climb into space. "We are thinking of using the technology employed in our bullet trains," Professor [Yoshio] Aoki said. "Carbon nanotubes are good conductors of electricity, so we are thinking of having a second cable to provide power all along the route."

At July's 2008 Space Elevator Conference, the Japanese team made a splash by presenting a working model of a space elevator constructed from Lego blocks. The JSEA will be hosting its own space elevator conference in November and is working to launch its own space elevator games in 2009. Japan hopes to turn sci-fi into reality with elevator to the stars [Times Online]