Thursday, May 07, 2009

Obama Antes Up Money For Extra Shuttle Mission

NASA's proposed $18.7 billion budget for 2010 includes the money needed to fly an extra shuttle mission that President Obama promised to add to the agency' schedule prior to the retirement of the shuttle fleet.

In a teleconference this evening with reporters, NASA space operations chief William Gerstenmaier said the budget includes about $300 million to fly a large particle physics experiment up to the International Space Station. Obama had pledged to add one extra mission during a campaign stop in Titusville last August.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer now is scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center aboard shuttle Discovery on September 16, 2010. The proposed NASA budget for 2010 directs NASA to launch the AMS if it can be done safely and affordably by the end of 2010.

The AMS is a 15,000-pound detector that is designed to sift through cosmic rays, looking for evidence of the mysterious dark matter -- a hypothetical form of matter that is believed to make up 90 percent of the universe; it is invisible. It does not absorb or emit light.

NASA agreed to launch the detector -- which was built as a collaborative effort of 16 nations -- is the brainchild of MIT physicist and Nobel laureate Sam Ting.

NASA agreed to launch the detector to the station in 1995 and then dropped it from the shuttle schedule after the 2003 Columbia accident. NASA in the wake of the loss wanted cut the number of remaining shuttle missions to the bare minimum required to complete the station, and the spectrometer was dropped off the manifest.

NASA now plans nine more shuttle missions prior to the retirement of the agency's three-orbiter fleet of winged spaceships. Eight of those will be International Space Station assembly or outfitting missions; the other is a fifth and final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

That flight is set to lift off at 2:01 p.m. Monday.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge and save the Associated Press image of shuttle Discovery setting sail March 15 on a mission to deliver a fourth and final set of massive American solar wings to the International Space Station. The second image is a shot of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Photo credit: NASA/Samuel Ting.

No comments: