May 19, 2011

$2 Billion Magnet Safely Installed On Space Station

After successfully docking with the International Space Station, the Endeavour and station crews wasted no time getting down to business installing a $2 billion cosmic ray detector with the goal of scanning the invisible universe for years to come.

Mission Specialists Andrew Feustel and Roberto Vittori used the space shuttle's robotic arm to extract the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) from Endeavour's payload bay and placed it onto the framework on the starboard side of the station.

Easily the most expensive piece of lab equipment on the station, the AMS has a 3-foot magnet at its core to create a magnetic field that will bend the path of the charged cosmic particles already traveling through space, NASA is reporting. Eight different instruments will provide information on those particles as they make their way through the magnet.

The AMS team will monitor the experiment 24 hours a day, gathering data for as long as the space station is in orbit. Armed with that information, scientists from 16 countries are hoping to determine the origin of dark matter and the existence of antimatter. AMS also could provide information about pulsars, blazers, gamma ray bursts and any number of other cosmic phenomena.

Creator of the AMS, Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting, personally relayed his thanks from Mission Control. The project has been in the works for 17 years and Ting fought to have it placed back on the shuttle, when its flight was suspended several years ago.

"This has been a very difficult experiment, and I think in the next 20 to 30 years, nobody will be able to do such a thing again. I hope together with you, we will try to make a contribution to a better understanding of our universe," Ting relayed to the astronauts.

The AMS project has been worked on since 1994 and may well vindicate the scientific purpose of the space station, according to astronauts, researchers and others.

After taking an extra 2 hours to properly install the instrument, astronaut-scientist Gregory Chamitoff radioed back to Mission Control, "I'm sure that Professor Ting and his group have been holding their breath. You guys can all start breathing again now."

The spectrometer will be checked over the next few days before it begins collecting data in earnest. The magnetic field generated by the instrument will bend the path of incoming cosmic particles and eight state-of-the-art detectors will try to identify them in the nanoseconds it takes to travel through the magnet.


Image Caption: A computer generated image showing AMS-02 mounted to the ISS S3 Upper Inboard Payload Attach Site. Credit: NASA/JSC


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