Skylab: America’s First Space Station

Skylab as SL2 mission departs. (NASA photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Skylab as SL2 mission departs. (NASA photo via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1973, the third and final crew of the U.S. space station Skylab launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Here are a few things you may not have known about Skylab and other space stations.

Skylab was the first American space station. The station itself was launched during an unmanned mission on May 14, 1973. The station was lifted into space by the last Saturn V rocket, the same type used in the Apollo moon missions. The first Skylab crew, set off 11 days later. That crew included Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad, who had been the third man to walk on the moon. The other two astronauts were on their first spaceflights. When they arrived at the station, the crew had to repair a heat shield and a malfunctioning solar panel.

The first crew was in space for 28 days.

The second crew was headed by Alan Bean, who was the lunar module pilot on the same Apollo 12 mission as Conrad. That crew spent parts of 60 days in space.

The third crew, consisting of three rookies, Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue, extended their predecessors’ record for time spent in space with an 84-day mission.

In total the three crews performed 10 spacewalks, totaling more than 42 hours; conducted about 2,000 hours of scientific experiments, and took 127,000 pictures of the Sun and 46,000 of the Earth. The final crew returned to Earth on February 8, 1974.

Skylab was abandoned after that mission, but remained in orbit. Some talk of launching space shuttle missions to the lab circulated, but delays in the shuttle program derailed any such plans. The station was expected to remain in orbit in to the early 1980s, but an increase in the sunspot cycle led to a earlier than predicted return to Earth.

The demise of the station sparked a worldwide media frenzy. The San Francisco Examiner offered $10,000 for the first piece of Skylab delivered to its newsroom, while a Nebraska neighborhood painted a giant target to aim for. NASA calculated the odds of any piece of Skylab debris hitting any human at 1 in 152. The odds of hitting a specific human were 1 in 600 billion.

The station re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on July 11, 1979. Debris landed over a 94-mile radius southeast of Perth, Australia. The local government jokingly fined NASA 400 Australian Dollars for littering. A 17-year-old collected the $10,000 prize from the San Francisco Examiner.

Skylab wasn’t the first space station, however. That honor goes to the Soviet’s Salyut 1, which was launched in 1971. In 1986, the Soviets launched Mir, which stayed in orbit until 2001. The International Space Station, a cooperative effort by several countries including the U.S. and Russia was launched in 1998 and remains in orbit. In 2011, China launched its first space station, Tiangong-1.

Our question: What were the first animals in space?



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Today is International Day of Tolerance, Icelandic Language Day, and Day of Declaration of Sovereignty in Estonia.

It’s unofficially National Fast Food Day, and National Button Day.

It’s the birthday of actor Burgess Meredith, who was born in 1907; musician Diana Krall, who is 52; and figure skater Oksana Baiul, who is 39.

This week in 1973, the top song in the U.S. was “Keep on Truckin’” by Eddie Kendricks .

The No. 1 movie was “Robin Hood,” while the novel “The Hollow Hills” by Mary Stewart topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What Savannah, Georgia, native wrote the lyrics to songs such as “Moon River,” “Fools Rush In” and “Skylark”?



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