(Geneva, Switzerland, August 26, 2010) -- It's the physics community's billion-dollar baby -- a 7.5-ton device so powerful that it could rock the core of modern science and reveal a new chapter in the universe's history.
And the aptly-named C-5M Super Galaxy will fly the device on its last terrestrial journey Aug. 26 before traveling on the final space shuttle mission to the International Space Station.
A team of internationally renowned physicists led by Nobel Laureate Dr. Sam Ting specially requested the U.S. Air Force's largest, newly remodeled airlifter to transport the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer from the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland to Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
"I'm very grateful the U.S. Air Force came to help us," Dr. Ting said. The particle detector is so large that, without the C-5, it would have required a certain level of disassembly for its flight, he said.
The secrets that the AMS can decode are so important that hundreds of physicists from 16 countries came together to build it. Although the project is officially sponsored by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy, nations around the globe have collectively invested an estimated $2 billion to ensure its success.
The AMS team waited 16 years for the day they could accompany it on to Kennedy Space Center.
"We're so honored to be on this flight," said Dr. Susan Ting, Professor Ting's wife and budget manager for the project. "To have the U.S. Air Force take us home is just ..." and she paused and smiled, then patted her hand over her heart.
Soon after the Dover Air Force Base, Del., C-5M aircrew arrived in Geneva to pick up the AMS Aug. 25, they were flooded by dozens of suit-wearing European scientists armed with personal cameras and questions.
"'M' is for movie?" joked one Italian physicist about the C-5's designator.
Prior to arriving in Geneva, the aircrew had dropped supplies off in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 14-person team included active duty and Reserve Airmen working alongside one another. They said they all felt honored to support the historic event.
The mission was especially memorable for Capt. Matt Matis, who completed his check ride as aircraft commander during the trip.
As he took a break from escorting scientists inside the plane, Captain Matis said, "This is a great opportunity to showcase the aircraft and do something different. A lot of these people have never seen a C-5 before. They have a lot of questions about how it actually gets off the ground.
"They're as excited as we are, if not more," added Captain Matis.
One man, after being introduced to Captain Matis, said jokingly about the phrase painted on the side of the aircraft, "Instead of 'Spirit of Global Reach,' it should say 'Spirit of Global Research.'"
"I find it fitting that AMC's oversize cargo aircraft is delivering this device to another legendary transport, the space shuttle," said Dr. Don Erbschloe, Air Mobility Command's chief scientist. "NASA is watching this mission with great interest to see how they might use the C-5M more in the future."
Global Reach for Global Research
Dr. Ting and his international team faced many trials through the years, to include last-minute modifications and shuttle cancellation. But he said he was determined to see the only physical science experiment on the International Space Station come to fruition.
During its 18 years of scheduled operation, the AMS is expected to use its magnetic detection powers to survey charged particles. While the European lab's Large Hadron Collider is famous for its ability to charge particles at extremely high energies; their levels are nothing compared to the energies of charged particles found in space and the stories they can tell.
"The cosmos is the ultimate laboratory," Dr. Ting said.
But it's important to shed preconceived ideas, he said. For example, the Hubble Telescope's purpose was galactic survey by detecting light; and it stumbled upon the curvature of the universe and existence of dark energy.
Likewise, the hope is that the AMS will stumble upon unchartered realms.
"You always discover something new, and that's what it's all about," Dr. Ting said.
Something old, something new
After nearly two decades of laboring to get the AMS into space to do its job, physicists at CERN were careful to run it through every imaginable test to ensure it will survive the space shuttle mission.
It only follows that the lead scientists would trust that the AMS would arrive unscathed after 11 hours aboard a C-5. Regardless, the modernized Super Galaxies "ride like Cadillacs," according to aircrew reports.
AMC began an aggressive program to modernize all remaining C-5Bs and C-5Cs and many of the C-5As in its inventory. The C-5 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) began in 1998 and included upgraded avionics, improved communications, new flat panel displays, improved navigation and safety equipment, and a new autopilot system. The first flight of the first AMP-modified C-5 (tail number 85-0004) occurred on Dec. 21, 2002.
Another part of the C-5 modernization plan is the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program, or RERP, which includes new General Electric CF6-80C2 engines, pylons and auxiliary power units, with upgrades to the aircraft skin and frame, landing gear, cockpit and pressurization system.
The C-5 aircraft that undergo both the AMP and RERP upgrades are designated C-5M, also known as the "Super Galaxy." The Air Force plans to upgrade 52 Galaxies to "super" status by the end of 2016.
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