What Would it Take to Build a Staircase to the Moon?

Space travel is just too expensive. NASA estimates that getting back to the moon would be possible, but they claim they will need 104 billion dollars to put a crew of 4 on the lunar surface for 7 days. Breaking this down per astronaut, NASA currently estimates that getting one person to the moon would cost 26 billion dollars.

This, of course, disregards the potential reusable aspects of the mission cost, such as the initial engineering work and some of the equipment, but it is still incredibly high. Elon Musk is working to bring this cost down by making rockets fully reusable by 2018, but even still, this only accounts for a minor reduction in the overall cost of the mission. Even if we assume that Musk and SpaceX can reduce the cost by 75%, it would still cost the average moon-bound human 6.5 billion dollars. This still means that Jeff Bezos, the current richest person in the world sitting at a pretty 94 billion dollar net worth would only be able to travel to the moon and back 14 times. He would have enough to fork over for a 15th trip to the moon, but not enough to get back.

We’re likely to see the cost of space travel be drastically reduced in the next many decades, but it’s still not a cheap endeavor.

All of this leaves the average human that might dream of seeing the surface of the moon in person with a longing desire and some very empty pockets. The next natural thought is figuring out a cheaper way to get to the moon – maybe by building a giant staircase?

Watch the video below or keep reading to figure out the answer to this absurd theoretical question…

This doesn’t sound like the most absurd thing in the world, so let’s take a look at what it might take to build such a structure that would allow anyone with enough time on their hands to just up and walk to the moon and if it’s even possible

238,900 miles stand in between the earth and the moon. The average human walks at a pace of 3.1 miles per hour, but let’s assume that Usain Bolt wanted to travel up this theoretical staircase. The fastest speed he was clocked at is 27.8 miles per hour in a full out sprint. Let’s assume that he might be able to jog up the staircase without any rest at about half that speed, still a respectable 13.9 miles per hour. In order for Bolt to travel from the earth to the moon, he would have to keep that pace for an astounding 358 days, 24/7. At a normal walking pace, it would take the average human 8.7 years to walk to the moon, that is, if they never stopped to take a breather.

All of this may sound like a long time, but surely there would be someone who would try the journey. So, theoretically, someone could walk or jog to the moon in their lifetime if they had enough food and some way to rest while moving. We won’t discuss the bathroom situation.

The big question to answer next is would the staircase be cheaper than launching a rocket?

Image Source: Concerning Reality

There are many materials that might be considered to construct the staircase out of, but none are as readily available in modern construction as steel. The World Steel Association currently estimates that about 1600 million metric tons of steel are produced each year with China accounting for 50.3 percent of that total production number. If we took all of that steel and manufactured W18x40 steel I-beams from it, which weigh in at about 40 lbs per foot, we would be left with nearly 16 million miles of steel I-beams produced each year.

The most efficient construction technique of our staircase would be to make it spiral. This also means that we would be able to get away with using one strong center column as the main support. If we used one long stretch of structural I-beams as the center core and used I-beams for the stairs as well, we would need about 1 million miles of steel to make this rudimentary staircase happen assuming 1/3rd of the steel goes to the center structure and 2/3rds go to the stairs. This number is quite conservative, but for the purposes of this idea, it’s within the bounds of possibility. This means that we could get by with only diverting about 1/16th of yearly global steel production to this project. This sounds perfectly reasonable.

So how much would this cost? Current estimates for structural steel brings it in at about .95 cents per pound. This means that our 1 million miles of steel I beams which weigh 40 million pounds would cost us 38 million dollars. Not too Bad!

There are a few problems though. Steel wouldn’t be strong enough to overcome the tensile forces created by its own weight and earth’s rotation, so it would surely fly off into space once it reached an appropriate height. Not to mention that a structure with the thickness of one I-beam wouldn’t be anywhere near strong enough to hold itself up. In all actuality, we would likely need to devote over a decade’s worth of global steel production just to create a foundation strong enough to support this structure.

So, if Ussain bolt wanted to walk to the moon up a steel I-beam spiral staircase for nearly a year with no supply of food and no rest, and he had 40 million dollars to invest in a theoretical construction project that would end up being thousands of percent over budget, he could do it. It just might be cheaper than launching a rocket… That is, if it were possible.

What are some other problems you can spot with this idea?

Trevor is a civil engineer by trade and an accomplished internet blogger with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author whose most recent book, ZOOM Go the Vehicles, is aimed at inspiring young kids to have an interest in engineering.

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