[Link] In 1993, NASA announced they were going to build a space station that would orbit the earth and allow astronauts to take very pretty pictures of space from really far away. The station would cost an extraordinary amount of money, and recieved a lot of criticism since it had no percieved purpose. The public view of the station was a combination of NASA’s vanity and science-fiction. We’d fly up into space, build a big station, and ya know, sit there, enjoy the view, whatever.
In 1995, a good deal of the criticism was relieved by Dr. Samuel Ting, who is a Nobel Prize winning particle physicist, which means he’s significantly smarter than anyone who reads or writes this blog. Doc Ting proposed building a big ole machine that would look for, and hopefully find, antimatter.
(A quick aside on antimatter: For those who are curious what antimatter is, well, no one at the Curious Mechanism is any sort of science major, but here’s the gist as I understand it: for every particle (proton, electron, etc) there is an antiparticle. Now, this antiparticle has the same properties as its particle [size, and, uh, I don’t know, color?] except that its charge is opposite. Now, particles make up matter, by extension, antiparticles make up (da-dada-DAA!) antimatter. We cool? Let’s move on.)
Now, Doc Ting’s antimatter looking glass would comb through cosmic rays looking for the one that created the universe, or, failing that, the one that created the Fantastic Four. Or, more likely, it would look for antigold and stuff like that. Whatever.
Now, you can’t just save up your pocket change to build a Look-See Box of this size and sweetness. Oh, no, you cannot. This super-fancy, 15,000 pound Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer took 500 scientists 10 years build, and it cost Papa Bear (the Department of Energy) a pittance at $1,500,000,000. Maybe “pittance” is the wrong word. And yes, that’s it’s real name–Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Rolls off the tongue, ya know? I know it sounds fake, too, and yes, that’s it up above there. Even looks fake. Anyway, these nerds spent a decade building the thing and, once it was finished, the called up the jocks of the nerd world (rocket scientists) and said, “We’d like to take the Whatsit up now, please.” They were feeling confident, as nerds do, because they others pinky promised in 1998 that, if Papa Bear actually built this contraption, then, yes, we’ll take our rockets and give you a life.
However, the jocks are reneging on their promise. After the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003, NASA decided to start decommissioning the rest of the shuttles. By 2010, all the shuttles will be museum artifacts. Because of this, it’s been super tough to get tickets for the remaining few rides. NASA informed Ting that his billion dollar project was getting bumped. Now, there’s no way for the thing to get to space for the foreseeable future.
Not so fast, however, say grown up Trekkies the world over. It wasn’t just the Dep. of Energy funding this thing. A whole lot of it came from international sources, including China, and NASA, despite being the big sharks in the tank, probably can’t afford to start picking pesky fights with Asia. Asia’s big. Like, really big. NASA exists in, what, two cities? Houston and Cape Canaveral? Asia’s around 50,000 times bigger than that. And they have rockets. NASA doesn’t wanna mess with rockets.
So, let’s go NASA. More cameras in space, we say! One more flight! One more flight!