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Space station tool to help explore universe

Associated Press / May 19, 2011

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A mammoth cosmic ray detector arrived at the International Space Station yesterday, a $2 billion experiment that will search the invisible universe and help explain how everything came to be.

It’s the most expensive cargo ever carried by a space shuttle and almost didn’t make it to orbit before the fleet retires this summer. It was launched this week aboard Endeavour on the second-to-last flight.

Two astronaut teams were assigned to attach the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the outside of the space station early today, using a pair of robot arms, where it will stay for the life of the outpost.

Physicist Phil Schewe said the experiment is part of a centuries-long tradition of scientists exploring the building blocks of matter. “Is this a big deal? Especially if they find something, yes it is,’’ he said.

The 7-ton instrument, known by its acronym AMS, has been 17 years in the making and involves 600 scientists from 16 countries. The heart of the experiment is a magnet ring 3 feet across.

The magnet will bend the path of charged cosmic particles as they pass through eight detectors, enabling scientists to identify their properties.