Joining Ting and about a dozen other scientists and program managers at Kennedy Space Center for AMS's arrival were the seven astronauts assigned who will fly with the detector aboard shuttle Endeavour in February. AMS, which was assembled and tested at CERN in Geneva, is expected to be attached to the outside of the station's truss using the shuttle and station's robot arms.
"Sam, I give you our guarantee we're not going to break it," Endeavour commander Mark Kelly told Ting. "It will get installed on the truss and hopefully be working before we depart."
From its vantage point above Earth's atmosphere, AMS is designed to track high-energy cosmic rays and determine the properties of their subatomic particles, a research effort, which if successful, could uncover antimatter or unravel the mystery of dark matter, which is believed to fill 90 percent our our universe.
"At the moment there was a big bang, there must be equal amounts of matter and antimatter," Ting said. "Now antimatter has been found in accelerators. The question is, is there a universe far, far, far away made out of antimatter? That is one example. The second example is we know 90 percent of the matter in the universe we cannot see. We know it exists... This experiment will provide the most sensitive search for the dark matter."
"When you build a new instrument you ask the best physicists to make a judgment, but physicists make a judgment based on existing knowledge. Discovery is to break down existing knowledge, so when you enter into new territory with a precision instrument it's very difficult to say what you will see," Ting said.
"The science potential for AMS is just incredible," added NASA AMS program manager Mark Sistilli. "In a very, very real sense, AMS could open up a whole new chapter in exploration of the galaxy and beyond."
(Top: Nearly 15 years in the making and with a price tag topping $2 billion, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer arrives at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch preparations. Right: AMS principal investigator Samuel Ting talks with reporters. Credit: NASA.)