Space ambitions can propel Singapore further

I agree with Mr Tan Yip Meng that as a First World country and with our strategic location, Singapore is well placed to be a space port or key satellite-launching hub ("Singapore well placed for satellite-launching business"; Oct 27).

China's and India's budding space sectors are currently almost on a par with that of the United States, and they have no problems launching their own space missions. Indeed, India has the capability to launch space rockets at a much lesser cost than Nasa.

The major stumbling block in today's space exploration is mainly the limited way payloads can be launched into space, that is, only by rockets with chemical propulsion.

As we have no such facilities here, we have to rely on India's rockets to send our satellites into orbit.

But why restrict methods of propulsion to rockets only? A space lift, however futuristic sounding, is the answer to some problems faced by countries contemplating their own space exploration programmes.

Theoretically, a space lift rising from Earth into space can be built to send payloads into space without launching rockets.

After the initial building cost, the cost of using it to send payloads up would be only a small fraction of the costs involved in launching huge rockets.

A space lift carrying people and equipment would go up a very long cable at least 35,000km in length, with one end anchored on the ground or a sea-based platform, which would stretch all the way into space and stabilised with a counterweight the size of a small asteroid at the other end. Earth's spin would ensure that the cable remains in place.

Former US president John F. Kennedy in the 1960s challenged his nation to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth "before this decade is out". And they did it.

We can, too, if we wanted to.

If we are among the first few countries to successfully build a space lift, we would be assured of being relevant in the coming space era.

Lee Kay Yan (Miss)