JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
The story of NASA’s antimatter experiment, which spanned 23 years from conception to its final home on the space station, is the subject of a new documentary.
“Fight for Flight,” by documentary filmmaker Jason Clemons, showcases the uphill battle that Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting fought to get the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer approved for use.
“This was an experiment that was conceived while the International Space Station was still in its planning phases and I think what it really shows is the space station is a blank canvas just waiting for researchers to come up with a killer app to fully utilize it,” Clemons said.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a detector specifically designed to process and measure antimatter, any matter comprised of antiparticles with an opposite charge of ordinary matter.
The documentary gives viewers perspective on how challenging good science can be, Clemons said.
“Science takes a long time to get done,” he said. “Often when I’m telling people about the International Space Station, they’re looking for results immediately as soon as the experiment goes up. But it takes time to look at the data and get good results. How important it is to invest in science and technology and we don’t necessarily know what the return on the investment is going to be but it will be out there because we are investing in ourselves.”
Constructing a documentary that can remain both engaging and informative to viewers from start to finish was the most demanding hurdle to overcome, Clemons said.
“What I’m used to is smaller forms, so four- to seven-minute videos designed for social media consumption,” he said. “To really take this big of a story and weave it in such a way that you keep the viewer interested in what’s going on and care about what’s going on was probably the most difficult aspect of it for me.”
Scientifically, the documentary should inform the public about the goals of the space station and its capabilities as well as the ability of scientists to do research on subjects like antimatter, International Space Station Deputy Chief Scientist Kirt Costello said.
“Antimatter is significant for a number of different reasons,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s a unique form of matter that really plays into the basis of cosmology. Antimatter is also important just because of the fact it makes an excellent power source. It’s also used in some medical imaging techniques and other sources terrestrially on the earth but it’s incredibly difficult to produce and then even harder to store once we have it.”
NASA documentaries have the ability to inspire younger generations to get involved in the space program due to its educational value, NASA flight surgeon Dr. Richard Scheuring said.
“As a kid growing up in Chicago, I had no clue what was going on in space until the Nova Science Specials on PBS or Nat Geo documentaries came out,” he said. “These documentaries give the folks insight as to what is possible and what the future might be.”
The general public will be able to view the film in various formats in the foreseeable future, Clemons said.
“We’re looking for a wider release toward the end of the year,” he said. “First, we’re are going to start with select screenings. After we do that, it’ll hopefully be on the streaming service and eventually it’ll be online, like YouTube.”