COLBERT, Leonardo and a Neutralino Heading for Space Station

The third launch attempt was a charm for space shuttle Discovery and her crew. The STS-128 mission is now underway with a successful liftoff one minute before midnight, local time, from Kennedy Space Center. Discovery is carrying the Leonardo supply module to the International Space Station, and tucked away inside is the COLBERT treadmill, along with several refrigerator-sized racks of science equipment, a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment, an air purification system, and other supplies, plus another unusual object packed in Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang’s belongings: a theoretical particle called a neutralino.

The plush particle with the CERN logo. Source: CERN
The plush particle with the CERN logo. Source: CERN

As you may have guessed, Fugelsang didn’t bring a real neutralino, but a soft toy version (see the whole collection of particles at Particle Zoo.) Fugelsang is a former CERN physicist and he wanted to take something representing CERN up to space on his mission. He chose the neutralino because it links together astrophysics and particle physics. In particle physics, the neutralino is a hypothetical particle, one of many predicted by supersymmetric theories.

The countdown and launch were textbook, without any hitches or delays. The valve that scrubbed a launch attempt earlier this week behaved normally, and while weather (which forced the first launch scrub) was a concern early during the countdown, the Florida skies eventually cleared allowing for a gorgeous nighttime liftoff. The stunning lead image is courtesy of flyingjenny on Twitter. Click the image for more of her images. Several comments from Twitterers attending the launch said night was turned into day as the shuttle ascended!

The mission is commanded by veteran astronaut Rick “C.J.” Sturckow. With him are pilot Kevin Ford and Mission Specialists Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez, John “Danny” Olivas, and Fugelsang, along with a new crew member for the station, Nicole Stott.

Of course, the treadmill is named after comedian Stephen Colbert, (if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard about this, read about it here) and otherwise is called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill.

Discovery is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Sunday August 30.

Sources: NASA TV, CERN

11 Replies to “COLBERT, Leonardo and a Neutralino Heading for Space Station”

  1. I watched the launch on NASA TV and it was spectacular, I love night launches.

    I also love particle zoo and it’s so cool that they’re having one of their plushes heading into space.

  2. I love it when big science comes together. Shame on me for not knowing Fuglsang is a particle physicist.

    Call me selfish, but I really hope they get to pu up the alpha-spectrometer thingie.

  3. @ Sili:

    Here’s a description of how Fuglesang ran the ALTEA cosmic radiation experiment on his first space mission. (Also describes the DESIRE experiment.) Speak of having particles on your mind!

    [And here’s a funny example of how his accomplishment are spoofed in the name of education, that I stumbled on.]

    “A little-known fact about Christer Fuglesang is that in 1980 the physics section of the students union at KTH awarded him their highest honour: the Order of the Integral for his “remarkable contributions in the services of the section”, a recognition of his work helping to integrate new students, and organising and leading the singing at student parties during his time at KTH.”

    Right, organizing the “snaps” (vodka) songs that are so important for the students social … , em, education and research.

    Btw, Fuglesang isn’t your everyday swedish name, so I wonder what it comes from. “Bird song”, um, Danish or German roots?

  4. Duh, a number of writing errors.

    Most seriously of them, I meant to imply that I tentatively translate Fuglesang to what perhaps a danish or, less likely perhaps, a german say when they speak of “bird song”. Is there a language expert in the house?

  5. @ Torbjorn Larsson

    Although I am German, I don’t know if “Fuglesang” could have German roots. Better ask some Swedish fellows 😉

    @ Sili

    Selfish? No, everyone wants to see the AMS up and running! Would be too bad if an already buildt experiment cannot be run, especially since it is not just “one” experiment, I deem it to be rather important….

  6. Got a great view of the launch from across the state in Tampa, FL. A clear night with the setting gibbous moon low in the west. STS-128 rose above the horizon with a 3/4 degree tongue of orange flame beneath her. Naked-eye and 7×50 binoculars both provided spectacular views. SRB separation was incredible, with the spent, tumbling boosters visible for several minutes after separation. Wish I had a scope and camera for this launch. Quite a memorable August night in Florida 🙂

    Great to see the plush ‘neutralino’ in space. Now if we could detect the real deal. Also looking forward to data coming back from the AMS experiment. Good luck and Godspeed to all aboard Discovery.

  7. HelloBozos, that’s some great video you captured, especially being located in Orlando. Really great shots of SRB separation. Congrats on your efforts!

  8. I will do just like Discovery: A night launch 😉 But I’m just off to a small island in the north see (Baltrum). 1 week of peace and holidays.
    ‘Till then: Farewell!

  9. “Fuglesang” does indeed translate directly as “bird song” in Danish. But I suspect the version without e is an old alternativ since our neighbour’s house when I was a kid was named “Fuglsang”.

    There are currently 43 Danes named “Fuglesang” and 1476 named “Fuglsang”.

    And by selfish I mean that I’m willing to put the lives of other people at stake for the sake of getting the damn thing up there. I wish the Automated Transfer Vehicle was further along (and stronger).

  10. GO Discovery!

    FINALLY, some science! Far too many have “poo-poo’d” the ISS as a waste of time, energy and money… And there have been some significant, even important statements made about some of the seemingly wasteful and inefficient methods used by NASA to get to this point. But…The BOTTOM LINE is: NOW, THE SCIENCE BEGINS!

    And P.S…. good luck on that serendipitous potential thangy! HO!

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