Years ago the futurist, inventor and sci-fi author Sir Arthur C. Clarke had a brilliant idea: Instead of launching rockets to get up into orbit, why not build a "space elevator?" The idea was that a space station would be tethered to the Earth by an extremely long, straight cable. The station would be held in place by the centrifugal force of the earth's rotation, and an elevator could ferry supplies up the cable, inching skywards the same way tourists get to the top of the Empire State (except the distance would be a bit longer, around 62,000 miles). Check it out:
Sure we might need a rocket to get the thing up there in the first place, but consider how ingenious this is. Rather than having to build subsequent rockets that all have to escape the Earth's gravity with massive engines, we could simply ferry parts up the elevator bit by bit, and assemble a craft in space, which would presumably require far less power to travel around in a vacuum.
Surprisingly, progress on this idea is actually being made. The Spaceward Foundation is dedicated to building a space elevator and is now holding their Power Beaming (Climber) Competition to see if anyone could make the actual elevator part of it. (The cable's a whole 'nother story.) A company named LaserMotive built a contraption that has thus far performed the best, scaling a cable nearly a kilometer high (held up there by a helicopter) at nearly 4 meters per second, placing it in the $900,000 prize money range. (The winner gets a cool $1.1 million.)
Space geeks can keep abreast of this stuff here.