Celebrating a very scientific Endeavour

Last week, we had the pleasure of a visit from the crew of shuttle mission STS-134, the last voyage of the space shuttle Endeavour, which delivered the AMS detector to the International Space Station in May 2011. It was an occasion to thank the astronauts for a job well done, and reflect on the complementarity of space-based particle physics and the research programme on, and under, the ground.


As AMS spokesperson, Sam Ting, said, his collaboration is taking its time to analyse data carefully before announcing any results. Why? Because AMS is unique, and it’s unlikely that another AMS will be sent into space any time soon. The AMS collaboration therefore wants to be sure of its measurements, since there’s no other space-born experiment to confirm or refute them.

He has good reason. There are some AMS measurements that can only be done in space. For example, if AMS claims the detection of an anti-carbon atom, indicating the presence of anti-stars and galaxies, the only place to get a second measurement is in space. Ground-based experiments would be mute. However, if AMS sees candidate dark matter particles, that would show the ground-based programme at accelerators like the LHC where to look. There’s great complementarity across a wide range of physics, making AMS a perfect match for CERN.

The astronauts were generous enough during their visit to give a seminar at CERN, and it pained me to see people being turned away. Our amphitheatre was built for a smaller lab than the one CERN has grown into, so it’s inevitable that for high-profile events such as the one on 4 July, not everyone will fit. I hope, nevertheless, that many of you who were unable to get in could follow the seminar via webcast or in another auditorium.

Accompanying the astronauts were members of their families, including former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, wife of the mission’s commander, Mark Kelly. This was her first trip outside the USA since she was seriously injured in an assassination attempt last year. I must say what an honour it was for her to choose CERN for her first overseas trip. Professor Ting thanked her for the role she’d played in helping AMS into space, and to that I’d like to add my thanks for her clear interest in the global scientific endeavour, as well as the Endeavour that went into space.

Rolf Heuer