Space shuttle crew training at CERN

From 13 to 16 October, the crew of NASA Space Shuttle mission STS-134 came to CERN for a special physics training programme. Invited here by Samuel Ting, they will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) detector to the International Space Station (ISS).


The STS134 crew in the Lodge at the Aiguille du Midi wearing CERN fleeces. From left to right: Captain Mark Kelly, US Navy; Pilot Gregory Johnson, USAF ret.; Mission Specialist Andrew Feustel; Mission Specialist Mike Fincke, USAF, Mission Specialist Gregory Chamitoff and Mission Specialist Roberto Vittori, ESA and Italian Air Force.

Headed by Commander Mark Kelly, a US Navy captain, the crew included pilot Gregory Johnson, a US Air Force (USAF) colonel, and mission specialists Mike Fincke (also a USAF Colonel), Andrew Feustel, and Gregory Chamitoff of NASA, as well as Colonel Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency (ESA). Two flight directors, Gary Horlache and Derek Hassmann of NASA, and the engineer responsible for the Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) training of the astronauts, Allison Bolinger, also of NASA, completed the group.

They were invited to CERN by Samuel Ting, AMS spokesperson, because in July 2010 they will deliver the AMS detector to the International Space Station. Installing AMS to the exterior of the International Space Station will be quite a delicate operation. The task will require multiple space walks and a lot of attention due to the interference caused by the response of the AMS’s powerful superconducting magnet to the Life Support System that astronauts wear during their extra vehicular activities.

For two and a half days, Samuel Ting and many representatives of the collaboration’s national institutes thoroughly briefed the astronauts about the detector’s details, purposes in physics, frontier technology, and in particular, its complex sub-detectors’ systems.

In addition to visiting the AMS clean room, the astronauts met Director-General Rolf Heuer and Director for Accelerators Steve Myers, and visited the CCC accompanied by Paul Collier.

Four of the six astronauts photographed during their short climb to the Aiguille du Midi (3900 meters)

The programme also included special “high altitude” training at the request of the astronauts themselves, who could not leave Geneva without a short climb to the Aiguille du Midi at 3900 meters. One could expect no less from people accustomed to working at 400 km altitude in the ISS!

At the end of the visit, Commander Kelly commented: “It is a lot more comfortable carrying this special payload in space, now that we’ve understood its systems, and how the sensors and the cryogenics work.”

Maurice Bourquin (left) explains to the crew the formula of the Universe on the back of the CERN t-shirts

Mission specialist Vittori, who has a degree in physics, said he was extremely happy to be part of this unique mission, which brings together his two passions: physics and space. “AMS is not a payload like any other,” said Vittori. “It’s the result of the efforts of a community of passionate scientists, an investment for all of us, a window in space and time that will most likely answer fundamental questions enabling us to understand who we are and where we’re going”.

Related videos:

Neutralinos at the LHC and in Space

Interviews with Captain Mark Kelly and mission specialist Roberto Vittori (English and Italian)


by Paola Catapano