This year marks 40 years since Skylab, NASA’s first post-Moon landings project, was sent into orbit. I plan to cover each of the missions flown by the astronauts who worked on Skylab in future articles, but let’s start with an overview of this rather forgotten space project.
Prepared before launch, this diagram shows both solar arrays in place. (image credit: NASA)
So what was Skylab?
Skylab was the first and so far last all-American space station to orbit the Earth. It was Earth’s second space station after the Soviet Union’s Salyut 1.
Skylab in orbit, note the missing solar panel and improvised fabric sunshade (Image credit: NASA)
Why is it worth remembering?
Skylab was the first NASA project designed to explore how space flight could expand and enhance human wellbeing on Earth (said NASA). The astronauts who worked on Skylab performed experiments and observations across many fields, including Earth observation, solar astronomy, stellar astronomy, space physics, geophysics, micro-gravity biomedical and biological studies and micro-gravity technology research. A series of projects designed by high school students were carried out on Skylab, to promote science and technology education. In many ways it was a precursor to today’s International Space Station.