Recently a scientist predicted that we could have an operating space elevator within 15 years if a mere ten billion dollars is spent. The cynic in me thinks he is underestimating the cost, but I do agree with the time frame. If we spent the money, we could do it by that date.
This is something that should be built. I think it matters much more than Bush’s diversionary promises about exploring Mars. It matters more than than a privately fund jet-powered joyride called SpaceShipOne. I’d say, that in some ways, it matters even more than Sputnik or Apollo. It matters because it actually makes space travel, really, really cheap. Once leaving Earth’s gravity becomes extremely cheap, everything else follows. The industrialization and infrastructure of space can finally take off.