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By Marty McDowell/NASA

Skylab was the first US orbiting space station. Unlike most previous missions, scientists rather than pilots were sent into space. Though Skylab was able to complete its missions, NASA had bad luck with Skylab from the beginning.

During liftoff of what was then the largest satellite of all time, vibrations caused a critical meteoroid shield (which protects the spacecraft from debris hitting it at speeds up to 25,000 miles per hour) to tear away. It also lost the use of one of two solar panels with it. The loss of the shield caused workshop temperatures to rise to 126 degrees

courtesy of NASA

Ads such as this began appearing around Johnson Space Center in 1979. (Courtesy of NASA)

Because of these problems, launch of the crew (Skylab was launched without a crew) for Skylab was delayed for 10 days to develop procedures and crew training to make the workshop habitable. Three three-man crews occupied the Skylab workshop for a total of 171 days, 13 hours. It was the site of nearly 300 scientific and technical experiments: medical experiments on humans' adaptability to zero gravity, solar observations, and detailed Earth resources experiments.


The empty Skylab spacecraft returned to Earth July 11, 1979 scattering debris over the Indian Ocean and the sparsely settled region of Western Australia. Skylab had become a joke for late-night talk-show hosts and had many worried about where it was going to land.


The total dimensions of the Skylab 1 space station is approximately 84 feet long and 22 feet diameter (at widest point).

Source: NASA.


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about Skylab? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"I was eight years old when SkyLab feel back to Earth. I remember hearing about the inevitable crash from my parents each night at dinner while the world's attention was focused so heavily on the craft. Needless to say, a child's imagination can take the ball and run for miles. One late afternoon I ran from our backyard into our kitchen and told my mom in a paniced voice, "I saw SkyLab. It's right over us!" My mother glanced out the kitchen window and back to her dishwashing and said, "It's an airplane. SkyLab hit two days ago.""


"I was 4 years old when skylab fell, but I remember it like it was yesterday. We had a block party for the event! My mom bought all the neighborhood kids little "guns" which were actually just gun-shaped flashlights, and people were wearing helmets out in the street. I didn't know what skylab was, but I knew it had something to do with space. I just assumed we were waiting for the aliens to show up. Still, when I think of the seventies, that is the one super clear memory I have. well, that and my dad's brown leisure suit with the velvet cowboy hat."


"I was studying in a high school in Madurai, South India. For nearly 30 days from before Skylab entered the Earth's orbit, it was the talk of the town. Local newspapers and magazines were overpoured with articles about the expected crash. All the teachers talked about this in our schools. At that time we didn't have televisions. The only news media is the radio. We regularly hear radio news about Skylab's path and was very much eager whether it is going to hit our heads. It is simply amazing that my children (now in 2001) are able to see live the hitting of WTC, New York sitting in our drawing room."


"I was born at the exact time that Skylab dropped into the Indian Ocean. At that time my dad was more worried about Skylab hitting us rather than my very pregnant mom... and to top it all everyone suggested that my name be kept Skylab!!! Thank goodness my parents didn't take the suggestions seriously!"


Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.



Courtesy of NASA

Launched: May 14, 1973

Destination: Earth orbit



Nation: U.S.

Mission: To prove that humans could live and work in space for extended periods, and to expand our knowledge of solar astronomy well beyond Earth-based observations.

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