by Malcolm Curtis|The Local, Switzerland|July 25, 2012
The team of astronauts from the last flight of the US space shuttle Endeavour touched down in Geneva on Tuesday.
The six-man team, led by commander Mark Kelly, touted the “cosmic particle detector” — developed in the Swiss canton — that the shuttle carried to the International Space Station in May 2011.
The detector, called an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), was assembled at the Geneva-based Centre for European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
Part of a particle physics experiment that is probing outer space for unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays, the spectrometer is “the most significant scientific thing the space station will do,” Kelly said.
Speaking to a gathering of the American International Club near CERN’s headquarters, Kelly underlined the importance of the sophisticated machine, which is beaming back information to physicists in Geneva.
Costing around two billion dollars, the AMS is already collecting “19 billion cosmic rays that are being analysed just down the street from here,” the former US Navy captain said.
Michael Fincke, a member of the Endeavour team who spent a year on the International Space Station — more time than any other American — said the spectrometer “over time is going to tell us what the universe is about”.
The AMS, developed with the involvement of the University of Geneva’s physics department, will collect data until at least 2020.
Kelly told The Local that funding for the International Space Station, built by 15 countries, is only guaranteed for the next eight years.
A decision whether to “de-orbit” the station has yet to be made, he said.
The American International Club event was held at the European headquarters of technology firm HP (Hewlett Packard) in Meyrin, just blocks away from CERN.
The Endeavour team, including five NASA astronauts and Italian Roberto Vittori from the European Space Agency, presented a video and each spoke of their experiences from the final mission.
They wowed the audience with anecdotes of tackling zero gravity and making space walks to repair the space station.
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