Here is a brief history of Space Elevator:
1895: A Tall Tower
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the pioneer scientist who formulated the Rocket Equation, is inspired by the Eiffel Tower to describe an imaginary tower so tall, that its tip would become orbital. If you were to step off from the observation deck at the top of this tower, just like in the cartoons, you will simply stay floating next to it. It is ironic that this inspiration paved the way to the Space Elevator, which is the only Earth-to-space system that can break the "curse" of the Rocket Equation
1960: A Taut Tether
This is the seminal Space Elevator proposal by Yuri Artsutanov. This development is widely credited as the invention of the Space Elevator, since for the first time it is correctly identified as a Tension Structure - a taut tether rather than a tall tower. The concept of the Space Elevator was so radical that Yuri couldn't get it published. Instead, the article appeared in the youth section of the Russian "Pravda" newspaper. The article is technically light, but it is obvious that Yuri Artsutanov did go through at least some of the details, except that of course the youth section of Pravda probably was not the right platform for mathematical analysis... In the article, Yuri Artsutanov introduces the concept of the taper and the ribbon geometry, and discusses deployment and bootstrapping schemes. He also surveys other places to build a Space Elevator - the moon, Mars, and even Mercury! The advance made with this publication is that the base description of the Space Elevator is now physically correct. The tall tower was an unstable structure that would sink directly into the Earth under its own weight, buckle, and snap - probably all at the same time... The tension structure, on the other hand, is probably the most stable structure ever conceived - the world's tallest pendulum. Artsutanov followed up with another paper in 1969.
1966: Elevator Redux
The team of Isaacs, Vine, Bradner, and Bachus publishes Satellite Elongation into a True Sky-Hook in Science Magazine. This is the first publication in a leading scientific journal, and is an independent effort from Artsutanov's. The paper covers most of the basics of the Space Elevator, including the proposal of a small scale Space Elevator.
1974: Elevator Re-Redux
The first robust mathematical treatment of the Space Elevator concept, by Jerome Pearson. This is also an independent effort from previous ones. Jerome Pearson, then working for the United States Air Force, describes the mathematical underpinnings of the Space Elevator in a rigorous and detailed manner. Pearson introduces the concept of taper, and calculates the profile of the tether, and addresses material selection ("perfect-crystal whiskers of graphite"). Pearson also describes the transfer of angular momentum from the Earth to the climber, interplanetary launches, preferred tether length, oscillation analysis, and discusses some of the hazards to the Space Elevator such as winds and lunar-induced oscillations. The bibliography section of this page points to other relevant papers. Pearson also advocates a Lunar Space Elevator.
1979: Science Fiction
The Fountains of Paradise by Sir Arthur C. Clarke is not exactly a technological step towards the Space Elevator but it is a huge step in terms of public perception. For the first time, the concept propagates beyond the small group of aerospace scientists into the vastly larger (yet still small) group of Science Fiction readers. Also published in 1979 - The Web Between the Worlds by Dr. Charles Sheffield. Sir Clarke publishes an open letter saying that this is more than a coincidence, but simply a case of an invention whose time has come.
1991: Carbon Nanotubes
This is something that happens less than once in a generation - Dr. Sumio Iijima discovered a new type of material, one that's been predicted before but never produced intentionally in a lab. Carbon Nanotubes are molecular-scale filaments of pure Carbon that exhibit a lot of interesting properties, not the least important of which is tensile strength - in fact, Carbon Nanotubes seem to be more than strong enough to build a Space Elevator. Carbon Nanotubes are only a few nanometers in diameter, but can be grown, theoretically, to any length. Carbon Nanotubes that are a few cm in length can be combined to create an infinitely long tether.
1997: Kidou-Elevator published
In Japan, Fujil Ishihara and Ryuichi Kaneko published Kidou-Elevator ("orbital elevator"), which may be the first technical book published on Space Elevators. It was republished in 2009.
1999: NASA Study
Following a call by Arthur C. Clark, NASA investigates the concept of the Space Elevator. The study was conducted by Marshall Space Flight Center, and steered closely to the design depicted by Arthur C. Clarke in the Fountains of Paradise. The almost inescapable conclusion was that a Space Elevator with that design is not feasible within the foreseeable future.
2000: NIAC - Phase I
Dr. Brad Edwards completes Phase I of his NIAC study about the Space Elevator. Many concepts that are now considered to be part of the 'baseline design' including an ocean-based earth station, carbon nanotube tether, various hazards, etc. are laid out in this study.
2002: Space Elevator Conference
The first Space Elevator Conference is held in Seattle, Washington, USA.
2003: NIAC - Phase II
Dr. Brad Edwards completes Phase II of his NIAC study about the Space Elevator. Concepts outlined in the Phase I study are now expanded. This study becomes the base of the book that he and Eric Westling publish that year.
2003: THE SPACE ELEVATOR - A revolutionary Earth-to-space transportation system
Dr. Brad Edwards and Eric Westling publish this landmark book, the treatise that is the baseline for every serious discussion about a Space Elevator today.
2003: The Space Elevator Reference
Marc Boucher starts up this site, probably the first online reference site about the space elevator.
Michael Laine forms Liftport, a commercial entity intended to incubate Space Elevator related technologies. Liftport experiments with Carbon Nanotube production and tethered balloon towers, but is not a commercial success.
2004: The Spaceward Foundation
Ben Shelef and Meekk Shelef create the Spaceward Foundation and approach NASA with the idea of funding a Space Elevator prize. NASA buys into the concept and allocates a $400,000 prize purse for advances in tether strength and power beaming. The first games are launched less than a year after the proposal is accepted (2005) and are a great success. A tradition is formed, and NASA responds by increasing the prize purse to $4 Million! The games continue to follow a very aggressive roadmap.
2005: First Space Elevator Games are held
These competitions, organized by the Spaceward Foundation and with prize money supplied by NASA, are intended to promote the technologies of Power-Beaming and Strong Tethers. While NASA does not endorse the concept of a Space Elevator, their need for these technologies, which are also key technologies to make a Space Elevator a reality, lead to a synergy between NASA and the Space Elevator Community.
2006: The Space Elevator Blog
Ted Semon starts up the the Space Elevator Blog in order to capture the real-time progress and experience of the Space Elevator community.
The first European organization with a focus on the Space Elevator is formed. This group holds yearly conferences devoted, in part, to Space Elevator activities. They also go on to, at a later date, organize the European Space Elevator Competition (EuSEC).
2008: The Japan Space Elevator Association
The first Japanese organization with a focus on the Space Elevator is formed. This group holds yearly conferences and workshops devoted entirely to the Space Elevator. They also host two annual space elevator competitions; LASER and JSETEC.
2008: International Space Elevator Consortium
ISEC is formed by members of the Space Elevator community in order organize activities in the technical, legal, political, public relations, and business arenas.
2009: JSEA hosts JSETEC and LASER competitions
The Japan Space Elevator Association hosts the first annual JSETEC (Japan Space Elevator Technical & Engineering competition) and LASER (Laser bricks Activity and Space Elevator Race) events. These are now held every year.
2009: NASA awards its first Space Elevator prize
LaserMotive, out of Seattle, Washington, USA, is the first winner of NASA prize money in the Spaceward-organized, NASA-sponsored power-beaming prize competition, USD 900,000.
2010: Yuri Arsutanov & Jerome Pearson
ISEC sponsors the attendance of these two pioneer Space Elevator researchers at the 2010 Space Elevator Conference. Their appearance comes on the 50 year anniversary of Yuri Artsutanov's original publication in Komsomolskaya Pravda, the document that set the entire Space Elevator effort into motion.
2010: Artsutanov and Pearson prizes
ISEC creates the Artsutanov and Pearson prizes, competitions designed to foster research into space elevator related topics.
2010: ISEC Reports
ISEC publishes the first annual ISEC Report (Space Debris Mitigation - Space Elevator Survivability). These reports are an in-depth look at the current status of a particular aspect of space elevator-related interests.
EuroSpaceward organizes and hosts the first European Space Elevator Games (EuSEC).
ISEC publishes Volume 1 / Number 1 of CLIMB, the first Journal devoted solely to the Space Elevator.
????: The Next Big Idea
The next development could be yours! Join the Space Elevator community, make the proposals.