Nanotech Promises One Heckuva Ride

As my colleague Tim Beyers pointed out yesterday, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) recently released a new application dubbed Google Sky that allows users to explore the universe from the comfort of their living room chairs. I've checked it out myself, and the tool is very cool, but when compared with another space concept, Sky is downright lame.

The concept of which I speak is a space elevator, and this past Wednesday The Wall Street Journal ran an article by Lee Gomes entitled "Is the Final Frontier Just One Ride Away On A Space Elevator?" It is a thoughtful, honest look at the feasibility of a space elevator, but there is one sentence in particular I'd like to bring to my fellow Fools' attention: "To the extent that a space elevator is feasible at all is due to advances in the science of nanotechnology, especially carbon nanotubes."

Last spring I noted that Arrowhead Research (Nasdaq: ARWR  ) acquired one of the leading private carbon nanotube companies in the world, Carbon Nanotechnologies. The company now goes by the name Unidym and is concentrating on, shall we say, more down-to-earth carbon nanotube applications in the fields of drug delivery and flexible electronics. But given its immense portfolio of carbon nanotube-related intellectual property it is feasible that a ride into space is in Unidym's future.

Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation Harris & Harris (Nasdaq: TINY  ) also has an equity stake in some promising nanotech firms that might play a supporting role in the development on a space elevator. For instance, Nanomix is working on carbon nanotube-based sensors, and D-Wave is seeking to construct the first true quantum computer -- a device that theoretically could run some of the complex calculations that will be needed before actually constructing a space elevator.

Finally, no project of such a massive undertaking is likely to be launched without attracting the attention and, ultimately, the assistance of some of the largest companies in the world, including the great alphabet companies General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , and BASF (NYSE: BF  ) .

Each of these, not surprisingly, is also investing heavily in nanotechnology. GE has identified it as one of its key research initiatives and has already created the "ideal" carbon nanotube. Hewlett-Packard is now commercializing real nanotechnology-based products, and BASF has expressly stated that one reason it is investing $221 million into nanotechnology research and development is because it expects to reap about $60 billion in revenue from the science by 2011.

The concept of a space elevator will be dismissed by many people as just another crazy, futuristic idea; others will criticize it as just so much hype. In my opinion it is legitimate idea, and if nanotech helps it get off the ground and into space, it could give some nanotech investors one heckuva a ride.

Interested in nanotech-related Foolishness? Check out these articles:

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Jack Uldrich gets nervous on an escalator, but he'd jump at the chance to ride an elevator into space. He owns stock in Harris & Harris and GE. The Fool has an earthly disclosure policy.


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