Space Shuttle to Return Pallet Full of History

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. (Image credit: NASA)

Its purpose now served, the shipping pallet used tolaunch and then configure a Canadian two-armed robot for the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) will be reinstalled into space shuttle Endeavour's payloadbay on Tuesday, in preparation for returning it to Earth.

Modified to support the Canadian Space Agency's SpecialPurpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), or Dextre robot, this SpacelabLogistics Pallet (SLP) was making its fourth and final flight to space,concluding a long history that can be traced back before the first shuttle leftthe launch pad.

The pallet is not the only itemmaking the roundtrip from the Earth to the space station and back.Stowed on-board Endeavour's middeck is a collection of soon-to-be spaceartifacts, ranging from a few hundred mission patches to a celebrity's playbilltitle page.

A pallet with a past

"Sadly, this is its last flight," wrote ScottHigginbotham, mission manager in the International Space Station and SpacecraftProcessing Directorate at the Kennedy Space Center, in an e-mail tocollectSPACE.

More than 10 such Spacelab carriers were built in Europefor the United States' shuttle program. This pallet, noted by the serial numberMD002, was delivered to ERNO, the predecessor to the European Space Agency, onJanuary 21, 1980, more than a year before the first shuttle launch.

Its own first flight came five and a half years lateraboard shuttle Challenger's eight day STS-51F mission. Flying as the forwardpallet in a three pallet "train", it helped support scientificinstruments.

The pallet next flew in Atlantis' payload bay as part ofthe 1992 STS-45 Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS-1)mission. Again dedicated to science equipment, the SLP held equipment from theUS, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Japan.

MD002's third and current fourth flight sharedsimilarities. Both launched on Endeavour and both were destined for the ISS. Onthe earlier flight, STS-100 in 2001, the pallet supported the launch anddeployment of Canadarm2, the station's robotic arm. The Dextre robot flown onSTS-123 connects to the arm and is used together when servicing the outpost.

When Endeavour lands next week, MD002 will have been inspace for more than 45 days over the course of its four flights.

Mission mementos

To mark their own milestones in space and to thank thosewho, like the pallet, lent support to their flight, the sevencrew members who launched on Endeavour had their own small 'pallet' ofmission mementos packed on the shuttle.

The astronauts have items for individuals in theirpersonal preference kits and items for organizations in their Official FlightKit (OFK).

"I think different individuals have some schoolmementos and flags and banners that are always great to take," saidSTS-123 commander Dom Gorie in a pre-flight interview. He and his crew spokewith about the items they chose to fly for others.

"I like astronomy and I have a good friend whomanages the Keck Telescope. I asked her if there was anything I could fly forthe Keck and she came up with a drive lock," shared mission specialist RickLinnehan about one of his mementos. The eight- by one-inch silver drive motoris a spare from the Hawaiian observatory.

Linnehan, who led the mission's firstthree spacewalks, is also carrying a lapel pin with pictures of the firstAmerican astronaut Alan Shepard. "That was from the Alan Shepard museum inNew Hampshire in Concord, where I grew up. They asked me to fly that as theyare opening up an Alan Shepard Center [at] the Christa McAuliffeplanetarium," he said.

Bob Behnken, who made his first spacewalk with Linnehanon Monday night, is carrying wedding rings.

"I have some other people's wedding rings that arenot mine. I think in one case we have to get them back before the actualwedding. They have to come back on our flight, they can't stay with the stationcrew," said Behnken, who is also flying a pair for his fianc?e and him.

Another first time spacewalker during this mission, MikeForeman has a "green and blue polka dot stuffed giraffe" on behalf ofthe Memorial Hermann Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas. "My wifeactually works with the hospital and they had asked her about whether I wasagreeable to take an item."

Pilot Greg "Box" Johnson is flying an item fora friend who once fought for Earth's independence from aliens."We've corresponded and become pretty decent friends," Johnson saidof actor BillPullman, whose roles included portraying the President of the UnitedStates 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'stheatrical adaptation of an earlier mission aboard the ISS. "I tried tofly the whole book but they didn't let me take it."

For Pullman, who spoke to collectSPACE at the launch ofEndeavour in Florida, one page was more than enough.

"When he first said 'Is there something you'd wantme to fly?' I thought, 'Wow, I didn't want to take up any space at all. I meanthere'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 representeda kind of a door for so many people that were working on the play that neverreally knew much about the space program or all the stories and the people andthe culture, so I thought well, if I could get the title page there, maybe Iwill," he recalled.

Continue reading tolearn about the boomerang, boxers and baseball memorabilia aboard Endeavour andthe International Space Station. 

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.