Since the late 19th century, the concept of space elevators has intrigued scientists. With no rockets to take astronauts to space those days, a space elevator could take humans beyond the geostationary orbit at an altitude of 35,786 kilometers or 22,236 miles.
The initial design focused on the compression techniques with the structure supporting its weight from below. Later, radical designs focused on tensile structure with a cable reaching beyond the geostationary orbit and a counterweight would keep the tension intact.
A space elevator could take humans and cargo to space without using heavy lifting rockets while it would have made deep space exploration easier as it would not need to burn rocket fuel till the geostationary orbit. However, both types of designs have remained in theories and the practicality of it has eluded scientists.
While the space elevator has remained a dream, scientists have managed to create elevators for real-life use. In China's Zhangjiajie, stands the world's highest outdoor lift that takes passengers to the cliff of the mountain at over 1,000 feet high.
Bailong or Hundred Dragons elevator is the world's highest and the heaviest outdoor elevator. Situated at Zhangjiajie Forest Park, the three double-decker lifts take tourists to the top of sandstone rock in just 88 seconds. Interestingly, the rock face inspired jungle planet Pandora in James Cameron's Avatar movie. The lifts carry over 8,000 tourists every day for $19. The number was around 14,000 during the pre-COVID-19 time. It began operations in 2002.
In 2015, Bailong managed three Guinness World Records — the tallest outdoor elevator, fastest passenger lift and tallest double-decker lift. "Its geological structure is very suited to using elevators as a means of transport, so we made this Bailong Elevator," Director of the company managing the elevator, Liu Jie told Global Times. "Before, there was only a cable car with limited capacity, so tourists had to wait a long time." The other way tourists can climb is by trekking for three hours.
Avatar Hallelujah Mountain
However, for many, it is Avatar movie that brings them to the forest park. Cameron was inspired by the southern Sky Column in the park to create the floating mountains of Pandora while the rock face was home to Na'vi people in the movie. The local government also capitalized on the fame of the movie, renaming those columns to Avatar Hallelujah Mountain in 2010.
The Hollywood masterpiece is among the handful of non-Chinese movies to be successful in mainland China, grossing over $80 million. "One of the main reasons we came is that the site inspired Avatar. The film really made an impression on us. And it really is beautiful here," Qiao Ke who took a ride in the lift with his family, told the AFP. The park is also home to the famous vertigo-inducing glass bridge.
The tallest lift in the world is situated inside the AngloGold Ashanti's Mponeng Gold Mine in South Africa. The 7,490 feet elevator is operational since 1986 and takes only three minutes to reach its destination. The other elevator open to passengers is inside the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building in the United Arab Emirates.