Little Bits of History

May 14

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 14, 2017

1973: the United States launches Skylab. Before a space program was even begun, scientists and science fiction writers agreed on the need for a space station. A waypoint in near space from which other projects could be launched. The Department of Defense and NASA worked together and beginning in 1963 began to develop plans for a space station. The first of these was a small station which was to be used mainly for reconnaissance. Both entities were competing for the same funding and the project never was able to come to fruition. The Apollo project with the goal of landing a man on the Moon took precedence and that goal was achieved in 1969.

Partly to keep the 400,000 NASA workers employed and partly because a Space Station was a really good idea, a new project was proposed by Wernher von Braun in 1964. His design was much larger than the prior DoD and NASA project called for. More ideas came in and the design was upgraded. More launches took place, still trying to get mankind to the Moon. Plans had to be modified again. This time, the actual comfort of the humans who would be manning the space station were also considered. Due to the experience gathered for the Apollo flights, even the food would be better. Also in the plans was a possible need for rescue for stranded astronauts, should that become necessary.

On August 8, 1969 the McDonnell Douglas Corporation got the contract to convert two existing S-IVB stages of Saturn rockets into the Orbital Workshop configuration. The Orbital Workshop was renamed Skylab in February 1970. On this day, Skylab was launched but it was damaged during the event and lost the micrometeoroid shield/sun shade and one of the solar panels. Debris from the mishap pinned the other solar panel and prevented deployment. As soon as the launch took place, work on the Space Shuttle program was ramped up. There were three manned missions to Skylab (SL-2, SL-3, and SL-4) with the first taking place May 26 to June 22, 1973 and the last from November 16, 2973 to February 8, 1974. A fourth trip was cancelled.

Many important experiments were done by the three 3-man teams sent up to Skylab, along with many repairs to the craft itself. There was talk of reactivating Skylab after the Space Shuttles became operational, since having people already up there would free up Shuttle time. Skylab was set to reenter the atmosphere in nine years. As time ran out for the Space Station, the world began to show some concern for the re-entry process. The exact landing spot for the station was unknown but NASA figured the odds of any particular human being hit with debris was 1 in 600 million. This statistic stood alongside the one saying the odds of any human being hit was 1 in 152. Skylab landed back on Earth on July 11, 1979 about 300 miles southeast of Perth, Australia. No humans were hit.

By 1973, we had a space station, the Skylab, and we had multiple probes going up to planets. So, all this wonderful stuff happened in 10 to 15 years. About that time, there should have been enormous initiatives to make it affordable for people to fly in space, not just a handful of trained NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. – Burt Rutan

When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people. – Frank Borman

It’s tiny out there…it’s inconsequential. It’s ironic that we had come to study the Moon and it was really discovering the Earth. – Bill Anders

Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there. – Mike Collins



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