Space Station-Based Experiment Might Have Found Evidence of Dark Matter Destroying Itself

Since it was first proposed in the 1960s to account for all the “missing mass” in the Universe, scientists have been trying to find evidence of dark matter. This mysterious, invisible mass theoretically accounts for 26.8% of the baryonic matter (aka. visible matter) out there. And yet, despite almost fifty years of ongoing research and exploration, scientists have not found any direct evidence of this missing mass.

However, according to two new research papers that were recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters, we may have gotten our first glimpse of dark matter thanks to an experiment aboard the International Space Station. Known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02), this a state-of-the-art particle physics detector has been recording cosmic rays since 2011 – which some theorize are produced by the annihilation of dark matter particles.

Like its predecessor (the AMS), the AMS-02 is the result of collaborative work and testing by an international team composed of 56 institutes from 16 countries. With sponsorship from the US Department of Energy (DOE) and overseen by the Johnson Space Center’s AMS Project Office, the AMS-02 was delivered to the ISS aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on May 16th, 2011.

Artist’s impression of the AMS-02 instrument. Credit: NASA/JSC

Ostensibly, the AMS-02 is designed to monitor cosmic rays to see how much in the way of antiprotons are falling to Earth. But for the sake of their research, the two science teams also been consulted the data it has been collecting to test theories about dark matter. To break it down, the WIMPs theory of dark matter states that it is made up of Weakly-Interacted Massive Particles (WIMPS), protons and antiprotons are the result of WIMPs colliding.

By monitoring the number of antiprotons that interact with the AMS-02, two science teams (who were working independently of each other) hoped to infer whether or not any of the antiprotons being detected could be caused by WIMP collisions. The difficulty in this, however, is knowing what would constitute an indication, as cosmic rays have many sources and the properties of WIMPs are not entirely defined.

To do this, the two teams developed mathematical models to predict the cosmic ray background, and thus isolate the number of antiprotons that AMS-02 would detect. They further incorporated fine-tuned estimates of the expected mass of the WIMPs, until it fit with the AMS-02 data. One team, led by Alessandro Cuoco, was made up of researchers from the Institute for Theoretical Particle Physics and Cosmology.

Using computer simulations, Cuoco and his colleagues examined the AMS-02 data based on two scenarios – one which accounted for dark matter and one which did not. As they indicate in their study, they not only concluded that the presence of antiprotons created by WIMP collisions better fit the data, but they were also able to constrain the mass of dark matter to about 80 GeV (about 85 times the mass of a single proton or antiproton).

According to supersymmetry, dark-matter particles known as WIMPs annihilate each other, creating a cascade of particles and radiation. Credit: Sky & Telescope / Gregg Dinderman.

As they state in their paper:

“[T]he very accurate recent measurement of the CR antiproton flux by the AMS-02 experiment allows [us] to achieve unprecedented sensitivity to possible DM signals, a factor ~4 stronger than the limits from gamma-ray observations of dwarf galaxies. Further, we find an intriguing indication for a DM signal in the antiproton flux, compatible with the DM interpretation of the Galactic center gamma-ray excess.”

The other team was made up of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing University, the University of Science and Technology of China, and the National Center for Theoretical Sciences. Led by Ming-Yang Cui of Nanjing University, this team made estimates of the background parameters for cosmic rays by using prior data from previous boron-to-carbon ratio and proton measurements.

These measurements, which determine the rate at which boron decays into carbon, can be used to guage the distance that boron molecules travel through space. In this case, they were combined with proton measurements to determine background levels for cosmic rays. They incorporated this data into a Bayesian Analysis framework (i.e. a statistical model used to determine probabilities) to see how many antiprotons could be attributed to WIMP collisions.

The results, as they state it in their paper were quite favorable and produced similar mass estimates to the study led by Cuoco’s team. “Compared with the astrophysical background only hypothesis, we find that a dark matter signal is favored,” they write. “The rest mass of the dark matter particles is ?20 – 80 GeV.”

 

The AMS being delivered to the ISS by the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2011. Credit: NASA

What’s more, both scientific teams obtained similar estimates when it came to cross-section measurements of dark matter – i.e. the likelihood of collisions happening based on how densely dark matter is distributed. For example, Cuoco’s team obtained a cross-section estimate of 3 x 10-26 per cm³ while Cui’s team obtained an estimate that ranged from 0.2 5 × 10-26 per cm³.

The fact that two scientific teams, which were operating independently of each other, came to very similar conclusions based on the same data is highly encouraging. While it is not definitive proof of dark matter, it is certainly a step in the right direction. At best, it shows that we are getting closer to creating a detailed picture of what dark matter looks like.

And in the meantime, both teams acknowledge that further work is necessary. Cuoco and his team also suggest what further steps should be taken. “Confirmation of the signal will require a more accurate study of the systematic uncertainties,” they write, “i.e., the antiproton production cross-section, and the modeling of the effect of solar modulation.”

While scientists have attempted to find evidence of dark matter by monitoring cosmic rays in the past, the AMS-02 stands apart because of its extreme sensitivity. As of May 8th, the spectrometer has conducted measurements on 100 billion particles. As of the penning of this article, that number has increased to over 100,523,550,000!

Further Reading: PBS Nova Next, Ars Technica, Physical Review Letters, (2)

Era of Space Shuttle Endeavour Ends with June 1 landing at the Kennedy Space Center

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Space Shuttle Endeavour and her six man crew landed safely today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:35 a.m. EDT following a 16 day journey of more than sixteen million miles.

The STS-134 mission marked the end of Endeavour’s space exploration career. It was the 25th and last space mission by NASA’s youngest orbiter. Altogether, Endeavour has logged 299 days in space, orbited Earth 4,671 times and traveled 122,883,151 miles.

The crew was led by Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly. Also aboard were Pilot Greg H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and the European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori. Vittori is the last non NASA astronaut to fly on a shuttle mission.

The night landing capped a highly productive flight highlighted by the delivery of the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space Station. AMS is a cosmic ray detector that seeks to unveil the invisible universe and search for evidence of dark matter, strange matter and antimatter.

5 of 6 crew members of STS-134 mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour at post landing press briefing. Credit: Ken Kremer

“What a great ending to this really wonderful mission,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operation at a briefing today for reporters “They’re getting great data from their instrument on board the space station. It couldn’t have gone any better for this mission.”

Mike Leinbach, the Space Shuttle Launch Director, said, “It’s been a great morning at the Kennedy Space Center. Commander Kelly and his crew are in great spirits.”

Four members of the crew conducted 4 spacewalks during the flight, which were the last by shuttle crew members during the space shuttle era. Simultaneously they completed the construction of the US portion of the ISS.

During the flight, Mike Fincke established a new record of 382 days for time a U.S. astronaut has spent in space. He broke the record on May 27, his 377th day on May 27, by surpassing previous record holder Peggy Whitson.

STS-134 was the 134th space shuttle mission and the 36th shuttle mission dedicated to ISS assembly and maintenance.

“You know, the space shuttle is an amazing vehicle, to fly through the atmosphere, hit it at Mach 25, steer through the atmosphere like an airplane, land on a runway, it is really, really an incredible ship,” said Kelly.

“On behalf of my entire crew, I want to thank every person who’s worked to get this mission going and every person who’s worked on Endeavour. It’s sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy.”

After the landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) , Endeavour was towed back into the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) where she will be cleaned and “safed” in preparation for her final resting place – Retirement and public display at the California Science Center in Los Angelos, California.

With the successful conclusion of Endeavour’s mission, the stage is now set for blastoff of the STS-135 mission on July 8, the very final flight of the three decade long shuttle Era.

“We’ve had a lot going on here,” said Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager, “Being able to send Atlantis out to the pad and then go out and land Endeavour was really a combination I never expected to have.

It’s been a heck of a month in the last 4 hours !”

Shuttle Endeavour Landing Photos by Mike Deep for Universe Today

STS-134 Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly. Credit: Ken Kremer
STS-134 Endeavour Post Landing Press Briefing.
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, Mike Moses, Space Shuttle launch integration manager at NASA KSC, Mike Leinbach, Space Shuttle Launch Director at NASA KSC, laud the hard work and dedication of everyone working on the Space Shuttle program. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:

Amazing Photos and Milestone Tributes Mark Last Space Shuttle Spacewalk
Awesome Hi Def Launch Videos from Endeavour
Spectacular Soyuz Photo Gallery shows Unprecedented View Of Shuttle Docked at Station
Ultimate ISS + Shuttle + Earth Photo Op Coming on May 23 from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli
Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Amazing Photos and Milestone Tributes Mark Last Space Shuttle Spacewalk

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Absolutely remarkable exterior panoramic photos of the ISS and tributes by Shuttle Astronauts marked two major milestones in spaceflight history today, May 27; the last spacewalk ever by Space Shuttle Astronauts and the formal completion of the US segment of the International Space Station after 12 years of construction.

Today’s spacewalk by shuttle Endeavour Astronauts Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff was the last ever outing in the three decade history of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

Check out the breathtaking photos taken by the astronauts today showing a wide angle view of the complex, including all of shuttle Endeavour at one end and a Russian Soyuz at the other end – backdropped by Earth.

A portion of the ISS and docked Space Shuttle Endeavour.
This image was photographed by a spacewalker, using a fish-eye lens attached to an electronic still camera, during the STS-134 mission's fourth extravehicular activity (EVA). The blackness of space and Earth's horizon provide the backdrop for the scene. Credit: NASA

The seven-hour, 24-minute spacewalk was the fourth and final EVA of the STS-134 mission and simultaneously finished the assembly of the US portion of the orbiting lab complex.

The primary objectives of the spacewalk were to attach Endeavour’s 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensing System (OBSS) and install a new grapple fixture to make the OBSS available to significantly extend the reach of the space station’s robotic arm. The OBSS was used to examine the shuttle’s heat shield tiles. But they are no longer needed aboard the shuttles since they are being retired and was therefore permanently handed over from Endeavour to the station.

This spacewalk was the 159th in support of assembly and maintenance of the ISS which now totals more than 1000 hours of astronaut and cosmonauts work time.

Greg Chamitoff’s amazing twitpic of the ISS, Soyux and ATV
On today's spacewalk @Astro_Taz took the most amazing #ISS px ever Can't wait to see @Astro_Paolo 's from Soyuz.

Gregory Chamitoff marked the milestones with these words of tribute; “At this time, now that we’re almost done here, I wanted to say a few words. This is the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour and it’s also the last spacewalk of shuttle crew members in station assembly.

“It’s kind of fitting that Endeavour is here because Endeavour was the first shuttle to begin construction of the station and so it’s fitting that she’s here for the last mission to finish assembly.

“During this EVA, we tallied altogether collectively over a thousand hours of spacewalks as part of station assembly. Mike and I have the honor here to share this last spacewalk and of course, with all the folks working on the ground, the thousands of people who helped build this, working in the shuttle and the station programs.

“We’re floating here on the shoulders of giants. This space station is a pinnacle of human achievement and international cooperation — 12 years of building and 15 countries. And now it’s the brightest star in the sky and hopefully the doorstep to our future. So congratulations everybody on assembly complete,” said Chamitoff.

A bright sun, a portion of the International Space Station and Earth's horizon
This image was photographed by a spacewalker, using a fish-eye lens attached to an electronic still camera, during the STS-134 mission's fourth EVA on May 27, 2011

From inside the Quest airlock, Mike Fincke took his turn and added these comments, “I wanted to say congratulations to the shuttle program for all the wonderful successes we’ve had over the past 30-something years. It’s a privilege that Endeavour’s hosting the last spacewalk by a space shuttle crew. So congratulations to the EVA development teams. We’ve come a long way. From me and Greg and the rest of the crew, congratulations.”

Today, Fincke also claimed the record for most time in space by a US astronaut, surpassing Peggy Whitson’s record of 377 days in space.

Astronaut Greg Chamitoff outside ISS during 4th EVA of STS-134. A fish-eye lens attached to an electronic still camera was used to capture this image of NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff during the mission's fourth extravehicular activity (EVA). Astronaut Michael Fincke is visible in the reflections of Chamitoff's helmet visor. Credit: NASA
Soyuz capsule docked at the ISS, twitpic from Astronaut Mike Fincke
Our ride home 4 months from now Px from @AstroIronMike on today's spacewalk #NASA #ISS #FromSpace, tweets ISS Astronaut Ron Garan

See more images at NASA’s Human Spaceflight webpage gallery, and NASA’s Image of the Day gallery.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Awesome Hi Def Launch Videos from Endeavour
Spectacular Soyuz Photo Gallery shows Unprecedented View Of Shuttle Docked at Station
Ultimate ISS + Shuttle + Earth Photo Op Coming on May 23 from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli
Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Awesome Hi Def Launch Videos from Endeavour

As the shuttle era frenetically draws to a close, the launch views of the thunderous climb to orbit captured by NASA just get ever more stunning and vividly illustrate what it’s like to liftoff to space.

Check out this awesome collection of high definition videos of Endeavour’s final blast off as recorded by cameras mounted on each of the twin solid rocket boosters (SRB’s) from multiple viewpoints.

The STS-134 mission lifted off on May 16 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The cameras show the launch from numerous spectacular angles and vantage points, pointed down to Earth and up to space, from alongside the belly of the orbiter and along the sides of the SRB’s.

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The videos show all the phases of the SRB in flight – including separation, parachute deployment and all the way to the dramatic splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean with rapidly changing backgrounds of the launch pad, Earth and Space.

The STS-134 mission is the 25th and final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, NASA youngest orbiter.

Endeavour’s six man crew is led by Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She was shot at point blank range and critically wounded during a routine congressional meet and greet with her constituents in January 2011.

Endeavour is set to land back at KSC on June 1 at 2:32 a.m. EDT after a 16 day mission to the International Space Station. The crew carried up the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and attached this wor;ld class science instrument to the truss of the ISS. The AMS is a particle physics detector searching for antimatter, dark energy and dark matter. The goal is to elucidate the birth and evolution of the Universe.

Side view of shuttle Endeavour stack and access walkways.
NASA released stunning launch videos taken from cameras mounted on multiple spots around the twin Solid Rocket boosters shown here, including dramatic views with the orbiter belly rocketing to space. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Spectacular Soyuz Photo Gallery shows Unprecedented View Of Shuttle Docked at Station
Ultimate ISS + Shuttle + Earth Photo Op Coming on May 23 from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli
Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

AMS Now Attached to the Space Station, Ready to Observe the Invisible Universe

The long-awaited Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics detector that could unlock mysteries about dark matter and other cosmic radiation, has now been installed outside the International Space Station. It is the largest and most complex scientific instrument yet on board the orbiting laboratory, and will examine ten thousand cosmic-ray hits every minute, looking for nature’s best-kept particle secrets, searching for clues into the fundamental nature of matter.

“Thank you very much for the great ride and safe delivery of AMS to the station,” said Dr. Samuel Ting, speaking via radio to the crew on orbit who installed the AMS. Ting is the AMS Principal Investigator who has worked on the project for close to 20 years. “Your support and fantastic work have taken us one step closer to realizing the science potential of AMS. With your help, for the next 20 years, AMS on the station will provide us a better understanding of the origin of the universe.”

“Thank you, Sam,” Endeavour commander Mark Kelly radioed back, “I was just looking out the window of the orbiter and AMS looks absolutely fantastic on the truss. I know you guys are really excited and you’re probably getting data and looking at it already.”

By collecting and measuring vast numbers of cosmic rays and their energies, particle physicists hope to understand more about how and where they are born, since a long-standing mystery is where cosmic rays originate. They could be created in the magnetic fields of exploded stars, or perhaps in the hearts of active galaxies, or maybe in places as yet unseen by astronomers.

The AMS is actually AMS-02 – a prototype of the instrument, AMS-01, was launched on board the space shuttle in 1998, and showed great potential. But Ting and his collaborators from around the world knew that to make a significant contribution to particle science, they needed a detector that could be in space for a long period of time.

AMS-02 will operate on the ISS until at least 2020, and hopefully longer, depending on the life of the space station.

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The AMS will also search for antimatter within the cosmic rays, and attempt to determine whether the antimatter is formed from collisions between particles of dark matter, the mysterious substance that astronomers believe may make up about 22% of the Universe.

There is also the remote chance that AMS-02 will detect a particle of anti-helium, left over from the Big Bang itself.

“The most exciting objective of AMS is to probe the unknown; to search for phenomena which exist in nature that we have not yet imagined nor had the tools to discover,” said Ting.

For more information about the AMS, NASA has a detailed article.

Source: ESA, NASA TV

Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission

[/caption]KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The second time was a charm for Space Shuttle Endeavour as she blasted off this morning (May 16) from Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center on her historic final mission under overcast skies after a two week delay caused by a heater malfunction in the orbiters critical hydraulic fuel lines.

The threatening clouds moved in over the pad in the last 30 minutes of the countdown and nearly derailed the launch. Forecasters had predicted a 70 chance of favorable conditions.

The Universe Today team of Ken Kremer and Alan Walters witnessed Endeavour’s exciting launch from the press site next to the world famous countdown clock. Check out our photo album here.

Space Shuttle Endeavour launches from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011. View from the countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Endeavour will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. The AMS will search for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter
to determine the birth of the Universe. Credit: Ken Kremer -www.kenkremer.com

Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates lifted off at 8:56 a.m. EDT Monday on the STS-134 mission which will deliver a state of the art particle physics detector to the International Space Station.

The $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) could potentially revolutionize our understanding of how the Universe was born and evolved over time. The AMS is a world class science instrument sponsored by the United States and 15 countries around the globe. Nobel Prize Winner Samuel Ting of MIT leads the international science project.

Endeavour’s three main engines roared to life six seconds before the twin Solid Rocket Boosters were ignited and pushed the shuttle off the pad atop a tremendous roar and brilliant flames shooting from Endeavour’s tail.

The blastoff was flawless and majestic. Endeavour disappeared into the clouds at about T plus 25 seconds

Liftoff of Endeavour on May, 16, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center with the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer destined for the International Space Station. Credit: Alan Walters – awaltersphoto.com

Nearly half a million people flocked to the Florida Space Coast to be a part of history and witness the launch of Shuttle Endeavour on her 25th and final mission to space. Many hotels were sold out for the night.

Numerous folks staked out their claim to a prime view location along area waterways and beaches by camping out for the night or by arriving many hours early to avoid the crush and clogged local roadways.

Kelly’s crewmates are Pilot Greg H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency. This is the first shuttle flight for Fincke and Vittori.

“This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration,” Commander Mark Kelly said shortly before liftoff. “It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop. To all the millions watching today including our spouses, children, family and friends, we thank you for your support.”

Both Finke and Vittori flew to space atop Russian rockets on their prior spaceflights. Vittori will be the last international astronaut to fly aboard a shuttle.

Endeavour is slated for a 16 day mission to the International Space Station which will include the final four spacewalks for the space shuttle program.

The STS-134 mission is the penultimate flight of the shuttle program and the 25th and final one for shuttle Endeavour, NASA’s youngest Orbiter.

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

If you watched Endeavour’s May 16 blastoff, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Last Liftoff of Endeavour on May 16, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Alan Walters – awaltersphoto.com
Endeavour disappeared into the clouds at about T plus 25 seconds after May 16 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer
Endeavour disappeared into the clouds at about T plus 25 seconds after May 16 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer

Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – A humongous crowd numbering perhaps half a million excited people is expected to witness the historic final blast off of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Clocks are ticking down as the countdown enters the final phase before Monday morning’s liftoff (May 16) scheduled for 8:56 a.m. EDT from Pad 39 A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Endeavour was unveiled for blastoff earlier today as a protective cocoon like structure was pulled away from the shuttle stack. The Rotating Service Structure (RSS) was retracted from around the orbiter starting at 11:45 a.m. over about 45 minutes and under a gorgeous blue sky. See my photo album

Space Shuttle Endeavour awaits launch from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011. Endeavour will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. The AMS will search for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter to determine the birth of the Universe. Credit: Ken Kremer

In a lucky break, expected thunderstorms that could have delayed the retraction and launch preparations actually passed through the area overnight, much earlier than expected.

Shuttle managers will gather at 11 p.m. tonight for a critical meeting and decision to give the “Go-No Go” directive to load the External Fuel Tank with supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel that powers the shuttle main engines for the eight and one half minute climb to orbit. The tanking process is scheduled to begin at 11:36 p.m.

There are no technical issues at this time that would prevent a launch. The weather outlook remains at “70 Percent GO”.

The goal of Endeavour and her all veteran six man crew is to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space Station. The $2 Billion AMS is a state of the art particle physics detector that will search for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter and seek to determine how the Universe was born and evolved.

The 134 mission is set to last 16 days and will feature the final 4 spacewalks of the space shuttle program.

Close up of Endeavour at Pad 39A shows astronaut walkway to the White Room and crew cabin.
Credit: Ken Kremer

The crew will wake up at 12 a.m. Monday. They depart for the launch pad shortly after 5 a.m.

Launch coverage begins on NASA TV tonight at 11:30 P.M. shortly before fueling commences:

www.nasa.gov/ntv

If you watch Endeavour’s launch, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.
Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Close up of aft fuselage of Endeavour at Pad 39A. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer and Space Shuttle Endeavour at Launch Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Ken Kremer

Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Space Shuttle Endeavour is poised for launch as the countdown clock ticks down to a liftoff from Pad 39 A on Monday morning, May 16 at 8:56 a.m. EDT. The shuttle Mission Management Team (MMT) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) met today (May 14) and gave the green light to continue launch preparations for the STS-134 mission, which is the final flight of shuttle Endeavour.

The weather forecast remains at a 70 percent favorable chance of acceptable conditions on Monday, according to Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. The weather outlook drops to only 20 percent favorable on Tuesday in case of a one day delay. The weather rebounds to 80 percent favorable if the launch is postponed by 48 hours.

Side view of shutte Endeavour stack and access walkways. Astronaut walkway to White Room at top center. Credit: Ken Kremer

At a briefing for reporters at KSC today, shuttle launch managers were upbeat about preparations for the launch.

“We had a really good meeting today, unanimous consent from the Mission Management Team to press on with the launch countdown,” said Mike Moses, MMT chairman and manager of shuttle integration at KSC. “Everything’s in really great shape, really no issues at all.”

Moses added that no problems are expected with the heaters in the auxiliary power units (APU’s) that caused the launch scrub two weeks ago on April 29.

To the heavens with Endeavour. Credit: Ken Kremer

Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said, “The countdown is going extremely well and the team is ready to go. Tanking of the External Tank begins just prior to midnight. We are not working any issue at this time.”

Fueling of the External Tank with supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen starts at 11.36 p.m. Sunday night.

Leinbach said that local officials are expecting a crowd of about half a million people to descend on the Florida Space Coast area for the launch.

“You’ll recall for the first launch attempt on that Friday afternoon, the estimate was between 500,000 and 750,000,” he said. “So they’re not quite expecting that big surge, but it’ll still be a heck of a traffic jam after launch.”

Endeavour and her six man crew will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – a particle physics detector searching for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter – to the International Space Station during a 16 day mission that will include 4 spacewalks.

After Endeavour was rolled out to the pad, I had an awesome opportunity to photograph Endeavour at the pad from stunning vantage points all around the launch pad from top to bottom.

Herein is part 2 of my photo album focusing on my visit to the base of the shuttle stack on the mobile launch platform while looking to the heavens and standing directly beneath the External Tank and in between the Twin Solid Rocket Boosters. Part 1 of my photo album concentrated on the view from the upper levels and our visit to the White Room – where the astronauts board the shuttle orbiter to take their seats for the adventure of a lifetime.

Looking to the heavens from directly beneath Endeavour’s tail. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle Endeavour awaits launch from Pad 39 A
Endeavour will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station which seeks to unveil the Unknown and uncover the birth of the Universe. Credit: Ken Kremer
View from directly below the External Tank and shuttle body flap between twin SRB’s. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle Endeavour atop Launch Pad 39 A is slated for liftoff on May 16. Endeavour and her six man crew will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer
Shuttle belly with attach points to External Tank connected to loaded Solid Rocket Boosters
on top of pad 39 A. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer standing beside the Solid Rocket Booster and External Tank and on top of Launch Pad 39 A with Space Shuttle Endeavour. Credit: Ken Kremer

If you watch Endeavour’s launch, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

NPR Radio interview including Ken here:
Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week

Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The all veteran crew for the last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour flew back to Florida today for their second try to lift off into space on the STS-134 mission to the International Space Station. This follows the launch scrub called by Shuttle launch managers on April 29 caused by a malfunction of critical heaters inside one of the orbiters three auxiliary power units (APU’s) which power the ships hydraulics.

The weather forecast for Monday morning launch is currently “70% GO” and liftoff is targeted for 8:56 a.m. EDT on Monday, May 16. Stormy weather and rain is expected to sweep across central Florida over the weekend and clear out in time for the launch. But Sunday’s rain could potentially delay the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure – which protects the shuttle from bad weather – for a short time.

Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates arrived at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center early this morning (May 12) at 9 a.m. aboard the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) after flying in from the astronauts training base at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Mark Kelly, Space Shuttle Commander
for the STS-134 mission speaks ro reports after crew arrives at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer

“It’s great to be back,” said Kelly to the large crowd of reporters, including me, gathered to greet the crew. “We really appreciate all the hard work by the team that’s worked over the last couple of weeks to get shuttle Endeavour ready. We are really excited to be here, excited to launch, hopefully on Monday if the weather holds.

Kelly is joined on the crew by pilot Greg H. “Box” Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Andrew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori. Vittori is a European Space Agency astronaut and spoke first in his native Italian language and then in English.

“Box” celebrated his 49th birthday today. “I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend my birthday then to come here with my crew a get ready to fly Endeavour next week.”

He also thanked the teams for resolving the APU issues. ”Hats off to Dana Hutcherson and her team for preparing Endeavour for this flow and finally a special thanks to the APU team for all the hard work you’ve done getting us to this point. Kudos for solving it and getting us back on track.”

Kelly and Johnson will fly practice landings in the STA in the remaining days prior to Monday’s launch. The STA is a modified Gulfstream II jet which handles like a space shuttle.

Mission Specialist Mike Finke whipped out a camera and photographed the gaggle of media as we were photographing them – a rare and thrilling experience for all of us. Finke tweeted the photo of us a short time later – and is included here.

STS-134 Astronaut Mike Finke snapped this photo of the media gaggle that greeted the crew on their arrival at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. Finke tweeted the photo as “AstroIronMike” and wrote - Astronaut view of our press conference. Ken is 4th from left and left of NASA logo. Credit: NASA/Mike Finke

Technicians at the Kennedy Space Center have been working around the clock since April 29 to determine the cause of the heater failure and fix the problems. The malfunction was traced to a switch box located in the aft section of the shuttle. Shuttle workers swaped out the ALCA -2 load control assembly box. Then they retested the new unit and qualified it for flight.

STS-134 Astronaut Mike Finke (2nd from right) photographs the media
as we photograph the crew upon their arrival in Florida on May 12. See Finke’s twitpic above.
Credit: Ken Kremer

Humongous crowds are again expected to travel to prime viewing locations around the Kennedy Space Center and pack the local hotels, roadways and beaches. Flocks of tourists are already arriving in anticipation on Monday’s launch. About 750,00 folks had swarmed to Florida for the April 29 launch attempt.

STS-134 is the penultimate mission in the Space Shuttle Program. The last shuttle flight by Atlantis is expected to occur in early July, but a firm launch date has not yet been set.

Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach greets the STS-134 crew upon arrival at KSC
as they depart the Shuttle Training Aircraft. Credit: Ken Kremer

If you do attend Endeavour’s launch, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

NPR Radio interview including Ken here:
Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week

NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July

[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – NASA managers set May 16 as the new launch date for the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour after technicians completed work to rewire and retest a switchbox in the orbiters aft compartment. Shuttle managers ordered the repair work following a heater malfunction that forced NASA officials to call off the planned April 29 launch.

At a briefing for reporters today (May 9) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Shuttle managers Mike Moses and Mike Leinbach announced that Endeavour’s last liftoff is now targeted for 8:56 a.m. EDT on Monday, May 16.

“Right now, we’re in good shape,” said Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

“Endeavour’s looking good, the team is upbeat. I went to the meeting this morning and they’re ready to go. Hopefully, this time the heaters will work and we’ll be able to launch on time next Monday morning.”

Repairs to Space Shuttle Endeavour have been completed at launch pad 39 A. Arrow shows location of access door used by technicians to swap out the faulty Aft Load Control Assembly (ALCA-2) near the main engines and install new wiring. Credit: Ken Kremer

The STS-134 mission is the penultimate flight of the space shuttle program and will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station.

Endeavour’s last launch attempt on April 29 was scrubbed about four hours prior to blastoff when critical hydrazine fuel line heaters failed to turn on inside one of the orbiters three auxiliary power units (APU’s).

Technicians have been working around the clock to resolve the problems and determined that the likely cause of the heater failure was an electrical short inside the ALCA -2 load control assembly box located in the aft section of the shuttle (see photo).

They installed about 20 feet of new wiring, a new ALCA box and then retested all related systems over the past week and a half.

“We’ve replaced everything except the heaters, and we’ve wrung those out with at least five separate checks and full functionals afterwards and now have extremely high confidence that the problem is no longer on the ship or in any of the electronics,” said Mike Moses, the Shuttle launch integration manager at the Kennedy Space Center.

At the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Load Control Assembly-2 (LCA-2) is uncovered for testing. Located in space shuttle Endeavour's aft avionics bay 5, the LCA-2 distributes power to nine shuttle systems. LCA-2 was replaced and all systems were retested. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The APU’s control the shuttles hydraulics which power the steering of the main engines, wings, wheels and rudders during ascent and re-entry. The three units must all be fully functional before NASA can commit to any shuttle launch as part of the launch commit criteria (LCC). If the heaters fail during flight, the hydrazine can freeze and clog the fuel lines and render the hydraulics inoperative. A rupture in the lines could result in toxic hydrazine leaking into the shuttles aft engine compartment.

The potential launch window for Endeavour’s final flight extends through May 26, except for May 21.

The all veteran six man crew led by Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly is due to fly to the Cape on Thursday, May 12 from their training base in Houston. The STS-134 mission has been officially extended to 16 days from 14 days and will include 4 spacewalks.

The launch countdown will commence on Friday, May 13 from the beginning of the nominal 41 hour countdown sequence.

As a consequence of Endeavour’s delays, the launch of the very final shuttle mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis will likely be delayed to mid-July, although Moses and Leinbach did not give a specific target date.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

NPR Radio interview including Ken here:
Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week

STS-134 crew plans to fly back to the Kennedy Space Center on May 12 in anticipation of May 16 launch. Here they posed for photographers at Shuttle Landing Facility on April 26 ahead of the scrubbed first launch attempt on April 29, 2011. Mission Specialists Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Mission Specialist Mike Fincke and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle managers Mike Moses (Launch Integration) and Mike Leinbach (Launch Director) at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer and Mike Leinbach (right) discuss Endeavour at a prior news briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now