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The Device NASA Is Leaving Behind 163

Posted by CmdrTaco
iminplaya writes "After years of delays, NASA hopes to launch this week a European-built laboratory that will greatly expand the research capability of the international space station. Although some call it a milestone, the launch has focused new attention on the space agency's earlier decision to back out of plans to send up a different, $1.5 billion device — one that many scientists contend would produce far more significant knowledge. "...it would be a true international disgrace if this instrument ends up as a museum piece that never is used.""
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The Device NASA Is Leaving Behind

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  • Intersting comment (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 2.7182 (819680) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @10:38AM (#21551487)
    Nobel prize winner Steve Weinberg says in the article that it will be the only good science done on the ISS if it goes up!!!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by raddan (519638)
      He also said that "This device could make discoveries that are Earth-shattering". I think it's pretty clear why AMS is getting canned. We like the Earth in one piece!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by dgatwood (11270)

        Is it an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator? Where's the kaboom? There was upposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 02, 2007 @01:37PM (#21552529)
      SPACE SCIENCE: NASA Declares No Room for Antimatter Experiment
      Science 16 March 2007: 1476
      DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5818.1476

      News of the Week SPACE SCIENCE:
      NASA Declares No Room for Antimatter Experiment
      Andrew Lawler

      NASA has no room on its space shuttle to launch the $1.5 billion Alpha
      Magnetic Spectrometer, which is designed to search for antimatter from
      its perch on the international space station.

      Expanded and posted on a science blog where it was being discussed:
      NASA: Alpha to Omega
      Category: astro
      Posted on: March 18, 2007 10:39 PM, by Steinn Sigurðsson
      http://scienceblogs.com/catdynamics/2007/03/nasa_alpha_to_omega.php [scienceblogs.com] [scienceblogs.com]

      SPACE SCIENCE: NASA Declares No Room for Antimatter Experiment

      Lawler
      Science 16 March 2007: 1476
      DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5818.1476

      News of the Week
      SPACE SCIENCE:
      NASA Declares No Room for Antimatter Experiment
      Andrew Lawler

      NASA has no room on its space shuttle to launch the $1.5 billion Alpha
      Magnetic Spectrometer, which is designed to search for antimatter from
      its perch on the international space station.

      Hey, isn't that the Samuel Ting-Michael Salamon project?

      Yes, it is:
      http://ams.cern.ch/AMS/Secretariat/AmsWhosWho.html [ams.cern.ch] [ams.cern.ch]

      NASA HQ is surely going WAY over the edge in punishing Michael Salamon. He was the head of fundamental Physics at NASA HQ, then they sent him to the White House, where he was for half a year or so the
      Director of Physics at OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy). They pulled him out of the White House for what looks like political reasons.

      This was to be the major actual Science experiment on the space station. And they are killing it -- why? I am leaning towards thinking that it is a purely political decision, as the "room" or money
      argument is unconvincing, and as I say, it seems to be the #1 science project in the entire Space Station program.

      If one detects even a single anti-carbon nucleus, one almost has to conclude that someplace there is an anti-star performinbg anti-nucleosyntheis, which exploded asn anti-supernova.

      What a huge discovery that would be by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. For that tremendous science value per dollar ratio alone, it should fly.

      I am going to write to my congressman and senators. Maybe it would be worth writing to, say, Oprah. The tax-paying public deserves to have SOME science done with their NASA tax dollars.
      ====

      Yep, I'd like to see it launched, too. Cancelling an experiment after spending 1.5 billion to build it is just the sort of idiocy that the govenment does all the time, though.

      If you follow NASA politics, though, you'd see that there's no reason to invoke any sort of "punishment" to understand this call. Griffin was given the order to cancel space shuttle by 2010. When you add up
      all the things that Griffin has been instructed to do with the shuttle before the drop-dead do-not-fly-it-any-more date, and look at the maximum flight rate that's considered to be safe, there are zero flights available.

      Of course, adding one more shuttle flight in 2011 would make perfect
      sense-- the replacement for the shuttle won't be available for
      another four years, so why not? But at the moment, that is being
      considered the "camel's nose under the tent" thinking, and "cancel
      shuttle by 2010" is a non-negotiable deadline.
      - Show quoted text -

      From the same blog and thread, a reply about Michael Salamon and the
      Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer:

      ==========

      He was the head of fundamental Physics at NASA HQ, then they sent him
      to the White House, where he was for half a year or so the Director of
      Physics at OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy). They pulled
      him out of the White House for what looks like political reasons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ruie (30480)

      Nobel prize winner Steve Weinberg says in the article that it will be the only good science done on the ISS if it goes up!!!

      And with a very good reason. AMS (the device) is meant to observe extremely high energy cosmic rays - energies magnitudes higher than we can currently achieve in big (or small) colliders.

      These rays cannot be observed with ground instruments as once they enter Earth atmosphere they immediately react to produce showers of lighter particles - this is how we know they exist in the first

      • Nobody runs naked in the streets when they do discover something awesome....
        • by TheLink (130905)
          Well if a T Rex interrupted my shower I might run naked in the streets.

          Might be still time to grab a towel though, after all it's the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.
          • by mstahl (701501)

            Let all the Slashdotters out there know . . . if it turns out the young-earth creationists actually are right, I will run naked through the streets.

        • by quanticle (843097)

          Didn't Archimedes shout "Eureka!" and run naked in the streets when he discovered the principle of displacement?

          • by mstahl (701501)

            Yes that would be what I was referring to. It makes me sad no one does that anymore.

            Can you imagine? "Hey everybody. We found a Higgs boson. LET'S GO STREAKING!!!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        but I doubt it will make anyone run naked in the streets as, say, discovery of a reaction that makes dark matter could (it is the 30% of the universe after all !)

        My physics TA (a doctoral student) used to say that this "dark matter" talk reminded him a lot of how we posited an extra planet between Mercury and the Sun because that was the only way to account for Mercury's orbit. It turned out that there was no planet, Newtonian mechanics were just too imprecise to predict the orbit of Mercury. Likewise, his bet was that the effects attributed to "dark matter" would be accounted for once we developed more precise physical laws.

        • by Ruie (30480)

          My physics TA (a doctoral student) used to say that this "dark matter" talk reminded him a lot of how we posited an extra planet between Mercury and the Sun because that was the only way to account for Mercury's orbit. It turned out that there was no planet, Newtonian mechanics were just too imprecise to predict the orbit of Mercury. Likewise, his bet was that the effects attributed to "dark matter" would be accounted for once we developed more precise physical laws.

          There is that.

          On the other hand some o

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Iron Condor (964856)

      Nobel prize winner Steve Weinberg says in the article that it will be the only good science done on the ISS if it goes up!!!

      ...which is slightly misleading, of course. Back in the late eighties, early nineties, cosmic-ray scientists in the US formed a collaboration to conceive pretty much this system. It was called Astromag. It had a certain cost, NASA said it was too expensive, it got canned. Fast forward a couple years and Sam Ting, who has no clue of cosmic-ray science and only now discovers that there's interesting things to be done there drums up financial support in industry and various European partners for a harebraine

      • With all due respect, who pissed in your Cheerios?

        I think all of those comments could have been said about the Hubble, and probably were 20 years ago, but look at what that instrument has taught us. Its output is a scientific treasure we'll still be analyzing for 30 years after it splashes down in the pacific.

        I still get upset everytime some bells and whistles project that won't save mankind from blowing hisself to hell gets the funding and support to make it happen, and tools for basic research that canno
  • by FeebleOldMan (1089749) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @10:40AM (#21551495)
    Argh someone new please RTFA and quickly post what THAT item is! The suspense is killing me!
  • Do not forget CAM (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @10:46AM (#21551517) Journal
    These are 2 devices that require to be in space. The CAM is the centrifuge module. It would allow us to test biologicals systems to long term exposure to low G's. For instance, what would happen with mice over the course of their life time, if exposed to 6/10 G.. This makes all the difference to us as we speak of setting up a colony on mars.
    • Re:Do not forget CAM (Score:4, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @12:11PM (#21551947)
      And of course, the CAM is one of the modules that won't make it to space. When I read the title of the story, I immediately thought of the CAM not another cosmic ray detector. At least the Columbus has some small centrifuges (in the "biolab") so we'll be able to get a little low gravity information. I don't know if they can squeeze mice into those things. But even figuring out the effects of low gravity on small shrimp (for example) would be an improvement over the current best information which is medical records for a couple of days on the Moon for 12 people (from the Apollo program) as well as the endpoints, zero G and Earth gravity.
      • keep in mind, that most of the cots will come close to the ISS and then allow an arm to park them. In addition, Spacedev HAS developed a space tug using their hybrid engine (it will form the service module for their ship, if they are funded either by cots or by bigelow). The space tug could hook up with a payload and then take it back to the ISS. So, that means that for a 100-150 million, we could get CAM. In the same fashion, we could get AMS. Depending on weights, it is possible that the 2 could go up in
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by darkwhite (139802)

        Columbus has some small centrifuges (in the "biolab") so we'll be able to get a little low gravity information. I don't know if they can squeeze mice into those things.
        "Hmm, let's see what happens to a mouse if we spin it for a long time at 10000 G... interesting."

        "Biolab" centrifuges are usually for pelletting and separating small samples in tubes, etc. Are you sure the ones in Columbus are slow low-grav centrifuges?
        • by khallow (566160)

          Wikipedia (whose fallibility is only in our understanding of its great wisdom) says [wikipedia.org]:

          Biolab will support biological research on small plants, small invertebrates, microorganisms, animal cells, and tissue cultures. It will include an incubator equipped with centrifuges in which the preceding experimental subjects can be subjected to controlled levels of accelerations.

          Wikipedia doesn't quite say "low gravity" there, but one can't imagine that they'd do, for extraordinary cost, the same sort of experiments that could be run on Earth.

      • by QuantumG (50515)
        The long term effects of low gravity on biologicals is assumed to be better than the long term effects of no gravity. It's generally considered non-controversial and unworthy of scientific test. Of course, that is obviously wrong as we don't know anything until we test, but hey.

        • by khallow (566160)

          It's generally considered non-controversial and unworthy of scientific test

          Pfft. First I've heard of this general sentiment. Course, you could be sarcastic here.

          Here's an example why this matters. Suppose we have the following mission profile for a trip to Mars (based on NASA's recently released plans). A crew goes to Mars (6 months in zero G) and stays on the surface for 16 months (0.3 G roughly) and returns (another 6 months in zero G). Suppose late during their stay, they find that their return vehicle has become broken. NASA flies over another return vehicle, but they miss

          • Quant was being sarcastic. He was stating what I have seen from NASA admin. I have been thinking about these 2 modules. These are by far the MOST important modules of the ISS. They are what justifies its' existence. So, if you were NASA AND you wanted the whole ISS (and not just a partial), what items would you leave off? Node3? Copula? These are items that make ISS expandable (say via a bigelow unit) and a bit more confortable, but are they needed? Not really. Yet, the 2 most important units of the ISS (be
            • by khallow (566160)

              IOW, I think that NASA has congress figured out.
              They did that with Hubble too. Good thing they're fighting hard for the stuff that really matters. :-/
  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EngrBohn (5364) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @10:55AM (#21551563)
    From the article: "The AMS is an automated device with a specific set of scientific tasks."

    Would someone please explain to me why this device must be attached to the space station? (Other than that it was built to be attached to the space station.) It seems to me that such an instrument could've been placed on its own dedicated satellite.

    Or is this a case of "we'll get funding for this if we hitch it to the best funding-horse around"?
    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 02, 2007 @11:15AM (#21551659)
      The space shuttle has a unique launch profile (with regard to g forces, lateral acceleration, vibration, etc.) and thus this can't be launched on any other vehicle without large (and expensive) adaptation / packaging.

      Once in space it will probably use a lot of power / cooling / processing power all of which is found on the ISS, not to mention communication systems and possible installation procedures (getting an astronaut to finish the wiring is cheap in comparison to bracing the wiring for the damage inccured on the launch profile)

      By the time they work out what extras are needed, what modifications are required and what mass the new system is then there probably isn't a launcher generally available that will take the resulting bulk into the required orbit. It would be easier to start from scratch and build a dedicated satellite rather than juryrig the current system to free flight.

      Note that according to the article they looked at other ways of getting it to the ISS and they all turned out too expensive. It's the shuttle thats the limitation in this case not the ISS.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 02, 2007 @12:27PM (#21552059)
      The option of turning AMS into a free-flyer has been explored and it is prohibitively expensive. Right now it is a precise, sophisticated instrument designed to merge with the ISS infrastructure. Adding propulsion systems, independent power generation, etc. could be done, but is not at all economical. Beyond that, it is probably best that this complicated device be accessible if some unforeseen problem arises.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bigpat (158134)

        The option of turning AMS into a free-flyer has been explored and it is prohibitively expensive. Right now it is a precise, sophisticated instrument designed to merge with the ISS infrastructure. Adding propulsion systems, independent power generation, etc. could be done, but is not at all economical. Beyond that, it is probably best that this complicated device be accessible if some unforeseen problem arises.

        It is not economical to put things in space. Period. The question isn't whether it is prohibitively expensive, because every launch is prohibitively expensive, yet we still keep launching things. The question is how much it costs and whether it is worth doing.

        Give our soldiers in Iraq the week off and you save enough to put 5 of these in orbit. The money is there.

      • by Rich0 (548339)
        I don't think he was opining about converting it to a satellite. He was questioning why it wasn't designed this way in the first place. If the thing had been built just to be a standalone satellite we obviously wouldn't have any kind of conversion/damage issues to deal with. The question is whether it would have cost a whole lot more to do it this way up-front.
  • by DaleGlass (1068434) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @10:58AM (#21551571) Homepage
    And why does it even need the ISS?

    Couldn't it be just launched with a rocket, after adding the necessary bits so that it doesn't need the ISS?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zocalo (252965)

      Maybe because one of the "necessary bits" is a human being to run it? I'm just guessing here, based on the fact it's specifically called a laboratory as opposed to a module, but if it absolutely requires human intervention to operate and can't be automated then it's the ISS or nothing. It might even be possible to get the module into orbit with an alternate launch vehicle, but even if you can get it parked alongside the ISS, overcoming the logistics of physically mounting it without the aid of the Shuttle

      • I thought that the device NASA might leave behind was the AMS, which doesn't look habitable [ams.cern.ch]
        • by Zocalo (252965)
          The article says that it's an automated module designed to be attached to the outside of the ISS, but that doesn't necessarily mean it could be made to operate fully autonomously of the ISS. It could still require some degree of manual intervention from the crew onboard the ISS to enable it to perform any meaningful experiments. True, you could possibly do that remotely via a comms link, but there could be any number of things it's currently dependent on the ISS for; power, cooling and communications bein
    • It was designed to be placed in the shuttle bay. The designers are saying it is too late in the game to redesign it to fit on top of a rocket. The Orlando Sentinel [orlandosentinel.com]has a decent write up.

      "Another idea is launching the spectrometer aboard an expendable rocket, at a cost estimated last year at $254 million to $564 million. That would also require a redesign of the spectrometer, which was custom-designed by NASA to fit the shuttle's payload bay at a cost so far of about $65 million.

      Ting dismissed the idea

      • by tftp (111690)
        I would imagine it would be like writing a piece of software for say, Windows, ready to be deployed and then the customer says "Sorry, I want that in Linux".

        If your customer has a good reason for such a change (like in this case) then I would estimate what it would take (money, time, people, etc.) to do the conversion. I definitely will not dismiss the possibility out of hand.

        • Well that goes without saying. Given enough Money, Time, and People, sure you can do anything right? I guess NASA has gotten the shaft from congress so many times they they are putting the onus on them to continue the project by coming up with the funds instead of diverting funds from other equally important NASA projects.
      • OK, so it will cost somewhere between a quarter billion and half a billion to put it on an expendable.

        Back around 1990, when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) twisted NASA's arm to get them to disclose the actual costs, it turned out that a single Shuttle flight cost right around one billion dollars. That was some fifteen years ago. You can bet your second-best piggy bank that the costs have NOT gone down, given that the cost is determined PRIMARILY by the size of the standing army that must be paid whether th
        • Agreed. Michael Griffin is telling Congress "Don't screw with our 'budgetary allocations' just to get this bloated science project off the ground, come up with the funding some other way". And by using your argument, ADDING a shuttle flight to the schedule would be cost prohibitive. If Sen Nelson is going to whine about it, he should put up or shutup.
  • by thaig (415462) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @11:00AM (#21551589) Homepage
    Why do the rest of us care one iota about dark matter? It may answer fundamental questions etc and could eventually have some positive effect for the people who have to pay for it but surely if our discoveries have to wait 10 years for the next opportunity to put a similar instrument up it's no immediate tragedy?

    On the other hand any biological experiments on Columbus might have a far more immediate effect on us e.g. understanding salmonella is important because all of us are at some degree of risk from it.

    I am sorry for the people who see their great efforts at risk of being wasted - but not that sorry, because I know that the practitioners of every discipline think that theirs is the most fundamental and important to mankind in some way and all of them are wrong, because everything is important.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tomz16 (992375)

      Why do the rest of us care one iota about dark matter? It may answer fundamental questions etc and could eventually have some positive effect for the people who have to pay for it but surely if our discoveries have to wait 10 years for the next opportunity to put a similar instrument up it's no immediate tragedy?

      On the other hand any biological experiments on Columbus might have a far more immediate effect on us e.g. understanding salmonella is important because all of us are at some degree of risk from it....

      Just consider that people would have posed the same argument about quantum mechanics, particle physics, etc. etc. a hundred years ago. Yet technologies based on the understanding of these theories fundamentally enables most of modern medicine today.
      No reason to be short-sighted here. The point is that you simply cannot perform a higher level science like biology or medicine in a vacuum, or you will very quickly stagnate. Just imagine trying to do modern biology or medicine with equipment from a century

  • This whole mess can be blamed on our IDIOT president. We had a project in progress, the ISS, and now we have to change our priorities to satisfy W's ego. Yes it's going to waste a ton of money. Yes it's going to piss off all the people that spent years developing the AMS detector. But obviously Bush doesn't care. Can't wait till he's gone.
    • by MavEtJu (241979)
      Print some more money, or sell some bonds to the Chinese. It is not that they don't have you guys firmly by the balls already.
      Yes this is a troll.
    • If i recall correctly , the ISS ,originally , was an ego project,one designed to rival MIR ,which was capturing the public imagination.This white elephant became ISS after the collapse of Soviet Union.

      The ISS is an expensive and elegant solution where it would have been better to have a cheap and cheerful solution like MIR.
    • if this means the ISS, another extremely over budget albatross around our necks, faces more limitations then so be it.

      This damn thing and the shuttles has trapped us into low earth orbit for how many years?

      The fact is, the shuttle system is what killed the AMS. We can't replace them and the one recent accident set us back two plus years. Add in the fact that another such accident and its all over till NASA comes up with a new launch vehicle and yes your priorities MUST change.

      Idiot President or not, at le
  • Private Enterprise? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cycloid Torus (645618) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @11:17AM (#21551677) Journal
    Article states, "Griffin initiated a study last year into alternative ways to deliver the AMS to the station, but they proved to be prohibitively expensive."

    Does anyone know if this includes any of the nascent commercial carriers?

    If they could get this into a slightly higher orbit, could it be delivered later with a small amount of reaction mass?

    Perhaps they should re-open this for bids.
    • Article states, "Griffin initiated a study last year into alternative ways to deliver the AMS to the station, but they proved to be prohibitively expensive." Does anyone know if this includes any of the nascent commercial carriers?

      Given that there really aren't any 'nascent commercial carriers' - SpaceX is years late (and recently boosted its prices...) and Kistler is as much vaporware as ever. You'll likely have to depend on existing commercial carriers (Boeing and Lockmart).

      The problem with cos

  • by dpilot (134227) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @11:36AM (#21551755) Homepage Journal
    This is Slashdot.

    We're talking about NASA.

    So of course it's wrong, by definition. NASA can do no right, on Slashdot.
  • If this is a truly an international disgrace and a great launch to science why don't ESA or the Russians launch it? They have the vehicles. I personally am counting the days when they deorbit ISS and move on to project Constellation.

    • by mean pun (717227)

      If this is a truly an international disgrace and a great launch to science why don't ESA or the Russians launch it?

      Although I am not at all familiar with this particular launch, the usual answer is that it would be too expensive to adapt the payload to another launch vehicle. That doesn't mean the other launch vehicles are inferior; it just means conversion isn't practical.

      Note that resupply or crew rotation missions are much less problematic, because they consist of a set of smaller payloads, and the e

      • by tftp (111690)
        it just means conversion isn't practical

        There is a very high limit on practicality when the other option is to scrap the $1B, perfectly good hardware. In management terms, "do what you need to launch it on any vehicle available."

        Besides, a Shuttle launch costs about $400M, but a Proton launch costs from $100M to $200M, and Ariane 5 launch costs about $200M. That's a lot of cash that is suddenly freed up to spend on refitting the payload.

  • Share-ware (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigattichouse (527527) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @01:15PM (#21552375) Homepage
    I remember working in a DoD shop, and we FREQUENTLY built shelf-ware. You'd get involved in the project, and do to the water-fall nature of the requirements, things would change so much (or get finished in time for a better tool to be built). And it went on the shelf. The worst part was you usually found out it was going on a shelf before you completed it, but you HAD to complete it to finish the contract and get some other task that would replace it... it was all very silly.
  • What about EBay?
  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Sunday December 02, 2007 @03:58PM (#21553747)
    I think we've got a pretty good head start in that category already. Another one isn't really going to matter.
  • As a researcher who once relied on funding from NASA for my research, I can tell you where my money went: to Mars. When Bush decided that we had to put a man on Mars, suddenly funding for projects that were relevant to things right here on Earth dried up. I had been studying crystal growth phenomena under a model which ostensibly would have been tested in microgravity on the space station and like many others we got the letter essentially saying 'Thanks for all the help, but we have to send a man to Mars
  • It was foolish to design this sort of single purpose instrument to be attached to a space station anyway. They should have designed it to be an independent satellite put up on an Ariane.
  • "This device could make discoveries that are Earth-shattering."

    Then please, leave it on the ground!

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