Atom Wave: 2007 A Space Travesty

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

2007 A Space Travesty


One of the epic travesties of science is that swell projects are sometimes tossed long before they ever get the chance to shine. A few years ago NASA ended the X-33 program before the prototype was even complete. In the spirit of that tradition, the administration recently announced its intention to cancel the Shuttle flight for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer project due to lack of funding. They are short by about a modest three hundred and eighty million dollars. Already built at a cost exceeding one billion, the massive liquid-helium cooled superconducting magnetic device is designed to detect cosmic rays from the International Space Station. Originally proposed by Samuel Ting in 1995, it is intended to study such phenomenon as dark matter and pulsars if it ever gets to orbit.
The ride may already be in NASA’s pocket, in the form of a commercial program that one of their contractors is developing for access to the space station. Admittedly, the vehicle has a colorful history, literally. It makes up for its failures in affordability. I am speaking of the notorious Falcon 1 rocket. While clearly unsuitable for launching the AMS, SpaceX is also developing another heavy lifter the Falcon 9. It gets better; NASA already has them developing the commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) system to deliver cargo to the station. It would still cost a modest seventy eight million for the ticket and the courage to risk the payload on the flight.
One way or another it will be necessary to launch the AMS or allow it to become dead to science.

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