Space may be the final frontier but in this instance, the craft setting out on a momentous voyage was not the starship Enterprise but Rickmers New Orleans, one of nine identical ships maintaining Rickmers-Linie’s bi-weekly Round-the-World Pearl String service for heavylift and project cargo. On board was the Experiment Logistics Module - Pressurised Section (ELM-PS), which forms part of the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo (meaning ‘hope’), part of the Japanese contribution to the International Space Station (ISS).
Rickmers New Orleans loaded the ELM-PS in Yokohama on 7 February and discharged it in Port Canaveral, close to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Rarely can a loading operation have been more closely scrutinised with executives from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA joined by Bertram R C Rickmers, Chairman of the Rickmers Group, and Jan B Steffens, Managing Director of Rickmers-Linie.
Kibo is Japan's first human space facility and its primary contribution to the ISS. It will enhance the unique research capabilities of the orbiting complex by providing an additional environment in which astronauts can conduct scientific experiments. The ELM-PS as carried by Rickmers New Orleans, will serve as a storage area for materials, tools and supplies. It can hold up to eight experiment racks and being pressurised, astronauts will be able to work within in shirt-sleeve conditions.
Conception and development of the ELM-PS which will be used mainly for microgravity experiments took more than 10 years and is the most precious cargo ever carried by a Rickmers vessel. The insurance value of the ELM-PS is a multiple of that of the carrying vessel and is scheduled to be launched into space by the space shuttle Endeavour on Mission STS-123 in Winter 2007/2008. The Japanese astronaut Takao Doi will be on board the shuttle and will visit the ISS to assemble Kibo.
Nippon Express Ltd and Kokusai Aeromarine Ltd were involved as freight forwarders both in Japan and the US. The booking was arranged through Rickmers-Linie’s own office in Tokyo, Rickmers Japan Inc, which was established in June 2006.