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About four days into the next space shuttle flight, the crew of mission 134 will use the shuttle's robotic arm to grab a 10-ton magnet from Endeavour's cargo bay. The astronauts will lift the magnet into space, then pass it along to the robotic arm aboard the International Space Station. If all goes well, the crew will finish the handoff in time for lunch.
The magnet is an astronomical detector that'll look for dark matter and cosmic antimatter, and study the powerful particles known as cosmic rays. It's the last astronomical payload of the shuttle program. More about its mission tomorrow.
Shuttles have been ferrying telescopes and other astronomical instruments to orbit since 1982. Some of them remained cradled inside the shuttle's cargo bay. Others were dumped overboard then recaptured for the trip back to Earth. And still others were sent off on their own — some to visit the worlds of the solar system, others to study the cosmos from close to Earth.
Many of these instruments, such as the Galileo mission to Jupiter, have long since completed their work. Others, such as Hubble Space Telescope and two of NASA's other Great Observatories, continue to stare into space. Their combined discoveries have yielded thousands of research papers, millions of pictures, and jillions of bits of data. Scientists are likely to be studying their results for decades -- results from missions that caught a ride on a space shuttle.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011