Serious people are trying to build an elevator to space. That's not a metaphor, and yes, a space elevator sounds like plot point from an Arthur C. Clarke novel. Which makes sense, because it is. It's a risky but well-considered plan to create a workable transit system between the ground and a set point outside the Earth's atmosphere. The space elevator isn't only a mad-eyed steampunk daydream.
If some indefatigable elevator crusaders have their way, it will be ripped out of the annals of science fiction and safely constructed into reality. The idea is futuristic, but it's also quite old: In 1895, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a rocket scientist in Russia, drew up an early proposal for a space elevator, and the basic concept remains unchanged. Enthusiasm for the endeavor has waxed and waned in the space exploration community over the years, but right now, a few high-profile projects are bringing the outlandish-sounding space elevator into focus again.