Friday, May 14, 2010


The United States' first manned space station, Skylab-1, was launched on this date back in 1973. I mostly remember Skylab because of its uncontrolled, premature fall back to Earth in July 1979, however. This was a big media event at the time, sort of an international joke that was tinged with just a little "russian roulette" style concern.  Where would it land? Manhattan?  An elementary school?  My house? In the end, the debris fell in Western Australia, and no one was hurt or killed by it. What many have forgotten is how problem-plagued it all was from the beginning.  Skylab was badly damaged during its initial launch in 1973, losing one of its main solar panels and a micrometeriod shield. 

If left un-repaired, this damage would have melted the plastic interior insulation, causing Skylab to fill with poison gas and become uninhabitable. So the first manned mission to Skylab, which departed two weeks later, went specifically to repair this damage.  (Reminiscent of the Hubble space telescope's problems in the early 1990s, huh?) Only two other teams ever went to Skylab, each departing later in 1973, despite the fact that Skylab was intended to remain in orbit for 8 years.  NASA's original plan was to have the Space Shuttle rendezvous with it again in 1979 and push it to a higher orbit.  But when the Space Shuttle's initial launch was itself delayed from 1979 to 1981, this plan was scrapped.  And then Skylab crashed to Earth two years early in 1979, anyway.

If you're still interested, you can watch a 1 minute video of the interior of Skylab that has been posted on You Tube by clicking HERE.

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