Sunday, May 25, 2014

The First US Space Station Skylab

Skylab as SL2 mission departs
Image by NASA
On May 25, 1973, the first crew of astronauts reached the US space station Skylab. Skylab was the first US space station and orbited Earth from 1973 to 1979.

Already in the 1950s it was expected by space scientists, that a space station would be a necessary step in space exploration. Wernher von Braun envisioned a very large space station with room for about 80 people including astronomers, meteorologists and soldiers to guard the station.

After the 1969 moon landing however, NASA was concerned about losing the numerous workers associated with the project. Therefore, von Braun, who was then head of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center then advocated for a smaller station in order to start the project soon. He proposed a concept that became widely known as 'wet workshop'. The station was supposed to be built from the S-II second stage of a Saturn V. Inside the shell was a 10-foot (3.0 m) cylindrical equipment section. On reaching orbit, the S-II second stage would be vented to remove any remaining hydrogen fuel, then the equipment section would be slid into it via a large inspection hatch. Power was to be provided by solar cells lining the outside of the S-II stage. This concept was son succeeded by the 'dry workshop' due to financial cuts. The new plan simplified the interior for the station and also the living conditions for the astronauts were improved from previous missions. Space food was re-developed as previous astronauts found the taste and composition, in the form of cubes and squeeze tubes very unpleasant.

The Orbital Workshop was renamed "Skylab" in 1970 and three years later, on May 14, it was launched by the modified Saturn V. Unfortunately, severe damage was sustained during the launch including the loss of the station's micrometeoroid sun shade and one of its main solar panels. The first manned mission SL-2 involved repairs to the station, which included two space walks. In total, three manned missions were made to Skylab and the last crew returned on February 8, 1974. In this period, Skylab logged about 2,000 hours of scientific and medical experiments, 127,000 frames of film of the Sun and 46,000 of the Earth.

When the missions were completed, the future of Skylab was highly debated. Several scientists proposed plans for reusing the station again in 1978 but the plans turned out quite risky, since the attitude control system needed refueling and that the station's gyroscopes had failed. The re-entry of Skylab faced great media attention. The station's debris landed southeast of Perth, Australia.

At yovisto, you may be interested in an entertaining video on the 40th anniversary of Skylab by NASA.



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