A $2 billion machine that will jump-start the search for antimatter and other phenomena arrived at the Kennedy Space Center from Geneva on Thursday. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer's trip to Florida was its final journey on Earth before it catches the last scheduled shuttle flight into space.
On Wednesday, airmen struggled to stow the 8.3-ton machine, described as one of the most complex space scientific instruments ever built, into a U.S. Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy at Geneva airport. The military planes are normally used to fly tanks and helicopters around the world, but scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, had to ask the Air Force to help them out when they found their device wouldn't fit into a 747 jumbo jet.
Sam Ting, a Nobel laureate and professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer would be docked at the International Space Station to collect evidence of antimatter, dark matter and other elusive elements of the universe over the next 20 years.
Antimatter, which the device was primarily designed to find, is sometimes referred to as the "evil twin" of ordinary matter and scientists believe the Big Bang created both in roughly equal amounts — meaning that, in theory, there could be an identical universe to ours out there made entirely of antimatter.
The spectrometer, which took about 15 years to build and was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, will be one of two payloads carried to the space station on Endeavour, NASA's last shuttle mission, scheduled for Feb. 26.
Antimatter detector awaits shuttle ride