March 18, 2008
— 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.
|Spacelab Logistics Pallet MD002 during its preparation for the STS-123 mission, before the installation of Dextre.|
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 contractor for 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
"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 fiancée 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.
Boomerangs, boxers and baseball
|A selection of Japanese foods are on-board Endeavour. (NASA)|
Not all the items the crew took with them are for others. Some they chose to share amongst themselves.
"I am carrying chopsticks, of course, for everyone," said Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, whose role on this flight includes configuring the new Japanese-built module that Endeavour brought to the station. "I am carrying 10 sets of chopsticks for everyone to try Japanese food in space."
His menu includes three types of Japanese noodles
, a salmon dish and steamed rice.
"Rice is perfect for space food," remarked Doi. "Steamed rice is kind of sticky to each other so it just stays, its perfect for space. Its perfect really, I put curry on top of it and it just stays."
Doi also brought with him a paper boomerang designed by Japanese world boomerang champion Yasuhiro Togai. It is not known if gravity is required for boomerangs to fly their trademark roundtrip.
"I hope it'll come back to me, but it depends on how well you can fly," explained Doi. "I'd like to find out if gravity will be helping or not helping for the boomerang to come back. That's kind of an interesting kind of thing," he said.
|The "Dream Shuttle" paper boomerangs designed for JAXA's astronaut Takao Doi. (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency)|
Doi plans to throw the boomerang
in the new Kibo logistics module, but he needs the permission of Peggy Whitson, the commander of the station, first. "She will tell me when and where I can do that."
While eating rice and throwing boomerangs, Doi will also be modeling the latest in space wardrobes. In an effort to improve such factors as "odor elimination" and "water absorbtion" while still being "soft and comfortable to the skin" Japan's "Near-Future Space-Living Unit" developed new clothing for Doi to test by wearing.
"I am carrying about 10 different items that have a special coating and a special way of making clothes so that it is more comfortable to wear them," said Doi. "Also, even if I wear [them for a] couple of days, three days, or five days, they should still kept clean. So it's kind of super clothing for the space program. I don't need to change," he stated.
Not to be outdone, Foreman also brought a special shirt to wear in space.
"I have a Houston Astros jersey that we'll have access to [on-orbit], so we'll all get a chance to try that on. It's a Lance Berkman jersey, so we're looking forward to giving it back to him when we get back."
Take me out to the space station
Another baseball fan, though for a different team, won't be there when Foreman and his fellow crewmates depart for home. Garrett Reisman joined the station's crew soon after arriving with Endeavour. He is replacing French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who will fill his seat on the shuttle for the return to Earth.
In addition to flying a library card good for borrowing digital books from his New Jersey-hometown's public library ("I did not have the heart to tell them we do not have internet access on the station."), Reisman has a small sample of dirt from the pitcher mound of his favorite team's stadium.
"They had a really wonderful ceremony just before the game where they brought me out on the field," Reisman recalled. "I had very low expectations. New Yorkers and Yankee fans in particular are kind of hard to please, so I expected basically apathy."
"It was before the game. I didn't expect that the stands would be full, but they were, maybe because it was a Sunday game in the afternoon and it was a beautiful day. But, boy, the place was 70 to 80 percent full, so on the order of 40,000 people or so were out there. I expected that nobody would really pay attention and I expected just a few sentences over the public address and they would give me the dirt from the pitcher's mound and a banner and that was going to be it," Reisman continued. "But Bob Sheppard, the announcer there at Yankee Stadium, went on and on and when he said 'NASA Astronaut Garrett Reisman', the crowd gave out this big roar and I couldn't believe it! It was the most surreal moment to date of my life."
"And then when they mentioned I was from New Jersey, that got another big roar from the crowd, and then actually, the dirt and the banner were presented to me by Roger Clemmons. Roger came out of the dugout and gave me both of those items and we got to talk a little bit. That was amazing."