It’s problematic sufficient when one thing goes fallacious with an advanced, $2 billion physics experiment on Earth. Those challenges are significantly larger when mentioned physics experiment is on the International Space Station, orbiting 250 miles above the floor of the Earth. Thanks to the efforts of the intrepid ISS crew, who performed a sequence of spacewalks to make repairs, a broken particle detector has a brand new lease on life.
Among the Stars, a brand new six-part documentary sequence on Disney+, chronicles the challenges the crew confronted on that mission over the course of two years. The sequence additionally chronicles the ultimate spaceflight of veteran NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, which occurred proper because the COVID-19 pandemic put the world in lockdown. “I joke that, three years in the past, I knew I used to be going into quarantine in March 2020, based on plan,” Cassidy informed Ars. “I simply did not know that the entire world would be part of me there.”
As we have beforehand reported, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is a particle detector that launched to the International Space Station in 2011 on the penultimate flight of the area shuttle. The machine has steadily been amassing knowledge over the past six years because it appears at quite a lot of particles from many sources, amongst them darkish matter collisions.
Invented by Nobel laureate (and AMS principal investigator) Samuel C.C. Ting, the AMS consists of layers of smaller detectors and is designed to measure the vitality and trajectory of cosmic ray particles, together with high-energy photons, electrons, and positrons (electrons’ antimatter companions). The instrument additionally comprises a financial institution of high-grade magnets that steer the trail of electrically charged particles and assist to separate the contributions from totally different particle varieties. The detectors enable researchers to differentiate between positrons and protons (which have equal optimistic cost however totally different mass), electrons (that are negatively charged), and different particles.
In 2014, the AMS staff introduced the outcomes of its first 18 months of knowledge assortment. They turned out to be frustratingly ambiguous. As Matthew Francis wrote for Ars on the time, “While AMS-02 discovered an extra of a sure kind of particle anticipated from some fashions of darkish matter annihilation, this extra did not bear the hallmarks predicted for a darkish matter signature. So one thing fascinating is occurring within the AMS-02 knowledge, however the probabilities of darkish matter being the trigger appear a bit low.” Still, physicists have been hopeful that further knowledge collected at even increased energies may yield extra conclusive outcomes.
But then the experiment hit a possible snag. In 2017, scientists monitoring the $2 billion AMS instrument observed a rise within the “degradation” of a number of of the pumps that function the thermal cooling system on its silicon tracker. Three of the 4 pumps had primarily failed. Only one is required, however the cooling system had misplaced all of its redundancy. Eventually, the fourth pump confirmed indicators of failing, too.
So physicists related to the experiment started working with a staff at NASA to plot a long-range technique that will lengthen the lifetime of the AMS. They knew that the set up of a brand new set of pumps would require pretty intensive work, together with the removing of insulation. All of that referred to as for a number of spacewalks. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan have been the designated spacewalkers for the mission, with help from NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who have been in control of working the robotic arm from contained in the ISS.
Although he was on Earth, filmmaker Ben Turner was available to seize all of it on digital camera for posterity, together with video diaries and livestream footage. The government producer and director of Among the Stars admits to a lifelong obsession with area flight, and among the many highlights of his filmmaking profession was capturing a music video for One Direction at NASA. The expertise whetted his urge for food for extra. “As a documentary filmmaker, I’ve the power to get into cool locations and inform the story of cool folks and attempt to see the world via their eyes,” he mentioned. “It lengthy was my ambition to try this with NASA.”
He acquired his probability when considered one of his firm’s companions, James Corden (aka the voice of Peter Rabbit), occurred to be chatting with Peter Rabbit director Will Gluck on set. Gluck talked about he had met Cassidy. Knowing Turner was a giant area fan, Corden put Gluck in contact with Turner for an introduction to the astronaut. Cassidy was quickly concerned within the mission.