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Dorfan Today: GLAST—One Step Closer to Launch
Congratulations to the Worldwide LAT Team

(Photo - Jonathan Dorfan) When a large truck, whose interior is atmospherically controlled, rolled out of the SLAC gates on May 11, it marked an important moment for SLAC and its worldwide collaborators. The truck carried the Large Area Telescope (LAT), an instrument that owes its existence to particle physics detectors and the people who know how to make them. As exemplified by its main detection devices, namely silicon strip charged particle tracking devices and cesium iodide calorimeters, the LAT is BaBar in space. It's been a long road for the SLAC staff and a dedicated group of collaborators from France, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the U.S. who designed, modeled, built, assembled and tested the LAT and its many components. Producing a "space-worthy" instrument, as we have come to fully understand, is an extremely demanding engineering task. The instrument, part of the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) mission, has safely arrived at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. for pre-launch testing. Following testing, the LAT will go to the spacecraft vendor and, in the fall of 2007, NASA will boost it into space using a massive Delta II rocket.

I want to congratulate the entire LAT collaboration who has worked long and hard to meet the exacting demands of space instrumentation while maintaining extremely tight cost and schedule challenges. It is most gratifying to know that the LAT performs exceptionally well as has been demonstrated these past few months by detailed tests at SLAC using cosmic rays. The LAT meets its design technical specifications and thus provides a grand window into our universe, illuminating exciting questions such as the nature of dark matter, the evolution of stars, and the accelerating powers of super-massive black holes. We at SLAC are most fortunate to host the Instrument Science Operating Center, thus placing us at the center of this exciting scientific adventure.

The LAT project breaks new ground in many different ways. It brings together scientists, engineers and instrument builders from two heretofore distinct disciplines, namely particle physics and astrophysics. And with this blending, funding agencies around the world that traditionally have not worked together now do. In the U.S., for example, the LAT project represents the first major collaboration between DOE Office of Science and NASA. The LAT has been viewed as a critical bench mark in measuring whether collaboration between these two U.S. research giants can be successful. Many important lessons have been learned from the partnership and it was not always smooth sailing. However, there is widespread agreement that the collaboration has been outstandingly successful and there exist no impediments to future, even larger, collaborations between DOE and NASA.

The 3,000 mile journey taken by LAT this month directly follows from the bold step that SLAC took in the mid-1990s in deciding to pursue particle astrophysics and especially in adopting a space-based project as its first endeavor. This move was not without opposition on many fronts. But given the post-2000 "explosion" in the compelling scientific questions that emerged at the interface of particle and astroparticle physics, this boldness was visionary. That vision is strongly supported by the recent EPP2010 committee which stated, “it is the sense of the committee that they [namely the DOE/NSF budgetary support of science at the interface of particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology] should be built up to a level approximately two to three times the current level.” Our leading role in GLAST birthed the Kavli Institute, and we find ourselves now extremely well positioned to take a strong leadership in that expansion.

—Jonathan Dorfan