Space Shuttle to Return Pallet Full of History
The Spacelab Logistics Pallet (SLP) that brought the Dextre robot to the space station has a 28 year history that includes three earlier flights. From top left to bottom right: STS-51F, STS-45, STS-100 and STS-123.
Its purpose now served, the shipping pallet used to launch and then configure a Canadian two-armed robot for the International Space Station (ISS) will be reinstalled into space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay on Tuesday, in preparation for returning it to Earth.
Modified to support the Canadian Space Agency's Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), or Dextre robot, this Spacelab Logistics Pallet (SLP) was making its fourth and final flight to space, concluding a long history that can be traced back before the first shuttle left the launch pad.
The pallet is not the only item making the roundtrip from the Earth to the space station and back. Stowed on-board Endeavour's middeck is a collection of soon-to-be space artifacts, ranging from a few hundred mission patches to a celebrity's playbill title page.
A pallet with a past
"Sadly, this is its last flight," wrote Scott Higginbotham, mission manager in the International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate at the Kennedy Space Center, in an e-mail to collectSPACE.
More than 10 such Spacelab carriers were built in Europe for the United States' shuttle program. This pallet, noted by the serial number MD002, was delivered to ERNO, the predecessor to the European Space Agency, on January 21, 1980, more than a year before the first shuttle launch.
Its own first flight came five and a half years later aboard shuttle Challenger's eight day STS-51F mission. Flying as the forward pallet in a three pallet "train", it helped support scientific instruments.
The pallet next flew in Atlantis' payload bay as part of the 1992 STS-45 Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS-1) mission. Again dedicated to science equipment, the SLP held equipment from the US, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Japan.
MD002's third and current fourth flight shared similarities. Both launched on Endeavour and both were destined for the ISS. On the earlier flight, STS-100 in 2001, the pallet supported the launch and deployment of Canadarm2, the station's robotic arm. The Dextre robot flown on STS-123 connects to the arm and is used together when servicing the outpost.
When Endeavour lands next week, MD002 will have been in space for more than 45 days over the course of its four flights.
To mark their own milestones in space and to thank those who, like the pallet, lent support to their flight, the seven crew members who launched on Endeavour had their own small 'pallet' of mission mementos packed on the shuttle.
The astronauts have items for individuals in their personal preference kits and items for organizations in their Official Flight Kit (OFK).
"I think different individuals have some school mementos and flags and banners that are always great to take," said STS-123 commander Dom Gorie in a pre-flight interview. He and his crew spoke with collectSPACE.com about the items they chose to fly for others.
"I like astronomy and I have a good friend who manages the Keck Telescope. I asked her if there was anything I could fly for the Keck and she came up with a drive lock," shared mission specialist Rick Linnehan about one of his mementos. The eight- by one-inch silver drive motor is a spare from the Hawaiian observatory.
Linnehan, who led the mission's first three spacewalks, is also carrying a lapel pin with pictures of the first American astronaut Alan Shepard. "That was from the Alan Shepard museum in New Hampshire in Concord, where I grew up. They asked me to fly that as they are opening up an Alan Shepard Center [at] the Christa McAuliffe planetarium," he said.
Bob Behnken, who made his first spacewalk with Linnehan on Monday night, is carrying wedding rings.
"I have some other people's wedding rings that are not mine. I think in one case we have to get them back before the actual wedding. They have to come back on our flight, they can't stay with the station crew," said Behnken, who is also flying a pair for his fianc?e and him.
Another first time spacewalker during this mission, Mike Foreman has a "green and blue polka dot stuffed giraffe" on behalf of the Memorial Hermann Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas. "My wife actually works with the hospital and they had asked her about whether I was agreeable to take an item."
Pilot Greg "Box" Johnson is flying an item for a friend who once fought for Earth's independence from aliens. "We've corresponded and become pretty decent friends," Johnson said of actor Bill Pullman, whose roles included portraying the President of the United States in the 1996 blockbuster "Independence Day."
"I am flying the front page of the playbill of his 'Expedition 6' play that he wrote," said Johnson, referring to Pullman's theatrical adaptation of an earlier mission aboard the ISS. "I tried to fly the whole book but they didn't let me take it."
For Pullman, who spoke to collectSPACE at the launch of Endeavour in Florida, one page was more than enough.
"When he first said 'Is there something you'd want me to fly?' I thought, 'Wow, I didn't want to take up any space at all. I mean there's got to be more important things than anything I'd want to do," explained Pullman. "And then I thought the fact that the play represented a kind of a door for so many people that were working on the play that never really knew much about the space program or all the stories and the people and the culture, so I thought well, if I could get the title page there, maybe I will," he recalled.
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