16.2.19 Skylab

Figure 16.2.19-1. Skylab as seen by the crew of Skylab 2 after the repairs they made (NASA).

In 1973 and 1974, three crewed Apollo Command and Service Modules flew on Saturn IB launchers to Skylab, the United States’ first space station in Earth orbit. Skylab was a converted S-IVB stage and was launched by an uncrewed Saturn V on May 14, 1973 on a flight named Skylab 1.

These flights provided invaluable science on Earth observations and on the effects of long-term weightlessness on human physiology, setting endurance records (28, 59 and 84 days) for their crews:

  • Skylab 2 (May 25, 1973 - June 11, 1973): Pete Conrad, Paul Weitz, Joe Kerwin.
  • Skylab 3 (July 28, 1973 - September 25, 1973): Alan Bean, Jack Lousma, Owen Garriott.
  • Skylab 4 (November 16, 1973 - February 8, 1974): Gerald Carr, William Pogue, Ed Gibson.

Skylab was heavily damaged during ascent and lost one of its solar panels. Internal temperatures soared above 50°C (122°F), and the flight of the first crew had to be postponed while NASA prepared emergency procedures to save the station.

Conrad, Weitz and Kerwin repaired Skylab with a series of high-risk spacewalks and completed several experiments. The crews that followed extended the collection of science data on the Earth, the Sun and space.

The crew of the final mission, Skylab 4, set a new record for the longest single stay in space, with 84 days. The record remained unchallenged until 1978, when the Soviet mission Salyut 6 lasted 96 days.