Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bon voyage, Endeavour!

Last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour (NASA)

Today Wednesday 18, "The crew of space shuttle Endeavour awoke at 10:56 p.m. EDT to “Drops of Jupiter” by Train, played for Pilot Greg Johnson. The song won the 2002 Grammy Rock Song of the Year and is a favorite of Johnson’s son Matt, whose birthday is tomorrow. Today is docking day in space. The terminal initiation burn at 3:38 a.m. will put the shuttle on the final course to link up with the International Space Station at about 6:16 a.m."

"The crew members for space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission are Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori. During the 16-day mission, Endeavour and its crew will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and spare parts including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank and additional spare parts for Dextre."
Excerpts from NASA reports

Why this amount of money? Could it not be used to help the hungry and thirsty in Africa.

Well. It is somewhat risky mission hoping the Shuttle will do well, the training of the astronauts expensive, their equipment costs millions, there is one time burning of huge amounts of rocket fuel during the launch and lift off and other very high expenses on ground and in space.

The answer to all this spending is largely in those three letters AMS.

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2
NASA experts explain that "Johnson Space Center is home to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) Project Office. The AMS-02 experiment is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector being constructed, tested and operated by an international team composed of 60 institutes from 16 countries and organized under United States Department of Energy (DOE) sponsorship. The JSC project office oversees and directs the overall payload integration activities and ensures that the payload is safe and ready for launch on the Space Shuttle and deployment onto the ISS. The AMS Experiment will use the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe and lead to the understanding of the universe’s origin.

The AMS is a high profile space-based particle physics experiment that is led by Nobel laureate Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)."

"APOD Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 (AMS), a detector that over the next few years could detect a significant abundance of specific types of dark matter, charged antimatter, and even a strangely possible variation of familiar matter called strangelets."
This matter is where the money is. And power.

If US Army was able to put together only one kg of antimatter and one kilo of matter the exploding energy of antimatter bomb would have the power equivalent of a 20 megaton thermonuclear bomb. Theory, true, but such numbers get the interest of generals and politicians - who will be the first one to get there, the rich Chinese or the USA in deep debts, India or Russia?
It has been estimated that at 1996 rates of electricity it would cost 2.5 million dollars to produce only one gram of antimatter. But what is this for an aspiring nation? Manhattan project was 20 billion dollars and had some significant implications to the Second World War and to the history of mankind.

Of course, AMS is fascinating to all of us because of the study of strangelets where matter is not up and down quarks but also have a strange quark.
The award winning interactive tour by Particle Data Group of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is an adventure that teaches even dummies like me such things in very attractive and interesting way (here).

So - Bon voyage Endeavour and Happy landings!

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