WASHINGTON, May 16 (Xinhua) -- The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) particle detector, mankind's most ambitious effort to date to explore the universe' origin, kicked off its long-awaited mission Monday, with Chinese scientists playing a crucial role in designing and manufacturing some core parts of the device.
The U.S. space shuttle Endeavor, on its final voyage, was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the 7,000-kg AMS worth 2 billion U.S. dollars.
The shuttle is set to dock at the International Space Station (ISS) early Wednesday, and will unload the AMS there to scour the universe for hints of dark matter and antimatter.
The detector will be a lasting legacy left by Endeavor, a 20-year-old space exploration veteran.
Samuel Ting, the principal scientist for the glistening AMS project, told Xinhua after the launch, "I feel good, but calm. Every thing is normal. We can get data from the AMS on Thursday."
Ting, a prestigious Chinese-American scientist, said, "The launch of the AMS is a very important step. The next step is to analyze data. We will walk forward step by step."
The AMS is the first major international space project in which China has been a key member.
An international team of more than 600 scientists, including many from China's mainland and Taiwan, have joined Ting's exhausting but respected AMS program.
The scientists include those from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Zhongshan University, Southeast University, Shanghai Jiaotong University in the mainland and the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology and Academia Sinica in Taiwan.
Ting, after Monday's blastoff, said, "China has many excellent scientists. I hope they would like to join the following stage of the AMS program."
Chinese scientists had "quite a lot of contributions" to the project, said Gordado Gargiolo, chief engineer of the AMS. "My experience with Chinese scientists is very good. I share the very good time and they are very good engineers."
Richard Milner, director of Laboratory for Nuclear Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), also thought China's contribution to the project was "crucial."
"Different countries can make unique contribution. Then you get together, you can make something no one country can make. That's the best part of that thing," he said.
Up to now, the study of cosmic rays has been limited to measuring light using telescopes and instruments like those on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The AMS is to be the first to study charged particles in space.
"I think that the AMS will change the way we think about high energy physics," NASA's AMS Project Manager Trent Martin told Xinhua. "It has the potential to completely rewrite the science textbooks because it's the first time we've ever done charged particle science in space."
Researchers at the Beijing-based CAS found ways to design and make the AMS' permanent magnet system that can be sent into space without causing any disturbances to the shuttle flight. The breakthrough cracked a decades-old technical hard nut that had kept physicists from realizing the idea of particle detection in outer space.
Their peers at the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology in Taipei, after being convinced by Ting, also accomplished a "mission impossible" with the invention of an electronic control system for the AMS that can run 10 times faster than the one currently used by NASA.