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Space elevator teams inch along

Three finalists with robotic climbers are competing to win $500,000 from NASA.

So far, no one has won NASA's $500,000 space elevator challenge after five days of bad weather in Salt Lake City, Utah, and more than enough snafus.

As of Monday, three finalist teams--the Kansas City Space Pirates, The University of Saskatchewan (USST) and the Technology Tycons (high-school kids from California)--were scheduled to perform two tests each of their self-built robotic climbers. To win the prize money, the teams' robots must be able to hoist up a thin carbon tether 100 meters within 50 seconds, under its own power source.

The three finalists emerged from eight teams that showed up to compete in the Spaceward Games, which were officially held between October 17 and 21, but ran over because of rain and snow. Inclement weather can easily harm the power systems: the climber from the Kansas City Space Pirates draws energy from solar cells and mirrors, and USST's climber gets its energy from solar cells and a laser on the ground.

This weekend, the Kansas City Space Pirates made it up the tether in one minute and 18 seconds, so team organizers were expecting to name a winner Monday.

But as of early afternoon, USST's climber failed to move up the ribbon. According to Ted Senson, a spokesman for event host the Spaceward Foundation, one of the USST team members said it was a problem with the climber's solar cells. The team has one more try to climb the tether.

Then, as the Kansas City Space Pirates were preparing to mount their climber, the tether ribbon snapped, Senson wrote on the challenge blog.

"The stop plate came rattling down the cable and fell to the ground--no one was underneath it, but it made it abundantly clear why the inner circle of the launch area is hard hat only," he wrote.

Once the tether was fixed, the Space Pirates' climber made it up the tether halfway before stalling out.

To be continued...