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Space elevator up in the air?

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ATLANTA — Scientist Bradley Carl Edwards envisions an elevator that could carry people and cargo from a platform in the Pacific Ocean 62,000 miles up to a satellite in outer space.

The idea may sound outlandish today, but a small branch of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration thinks it might work — just give it a few decades.

"This is a little out there," Edwards admits. "NASA usually likes to fund things that are already developed."

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts picks the top research ideas that simply aren't possible with today's technology — and it tries to do them anyway.

"What we're looking for are things that stretch our imagination, stretch what we think is really possible," said Bob Cassanova, the institute's director. "We tell people, 'Don't let your preoccupation with reality stifle your imagination.' "

The space elevator would make space travel convenient and cheap, and it wouldn't require rockets

The progress scientists have made on these sci-fi projects has persuaded NASA officials to look beyond the next few shuttle missions to projects that could pay off in one to four decades, said Ron Turner, who assists the lab and is the principal physicist at ANSER, an independent nonprofit that does analysis for the government.

"NASA has gone from being incredulous to saying it might work, and that's a big step," Turner said.