Ravaged By Solar Flares And NASA's Only Mutiny, Our First Space Station Went Out In A Blaze Of Glory

What was Skylab? Back in the day, long before there was an International Space Station, or even a Space Shuttle, and not too long after the end of NASA's famous Apollo Space Program, there existed the world's first space station, an "orbital workshop," known as Skylab. Developed over a period of nearly ten years, the NASA Skylab project was launched into orbit in 1973 and completed three missions that year.

But what did Skylab do? It was a workshop of scientific and medical experiments, some of them inspired by students on Earth. It was also a test, of sorts, to determine whether or not humans could safely and productively live in space for extended periods in the Skylab station. Skylab program history is full of fascinating stories related to the experiments conducted aboard, and inventions and technologies that were developed as a result of what happened aboard Skylab. Read on to find out the whole story of humanity's first home in space.

Photo: Public Domain/NASA / Wikimedia Commons

  • Skylab Was The First American Space Station

    Skylab Was The First American Space Station
    Video: YouTube

    The 1970s marked the waning of the NASA Apollo program, but several years before that program ended, plans were in the works for a new sort of human activity in space. A new goal for the United States and NASA was to explore how humans might live and work in space for extended periods.

    Budgets were tight at the time, so NASA looked for safe, but affordable, ways to build a space station. They came up with Skylab, which was supported by a modified Saturn V rocket. Skylab was launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 14, 1973.

    Skylab's mission was multi-faceted. In addition to learning more about how humans handled life in space, it also included an in-depth study of the Sun, observations of the comet Kohoutek, as well as a myriad of scientific experiments onboard.

  • It Was Designed To Go Up, Not Come Down

    It Was Designed To Go Up, Not Come Down
    Video: YouTube

    Launching Skylab was a piece of cake for NASA, as they'd been launching successfully for years. But, the size and scope of Skylab was quite different from the smaller capsules that splashed down after orbiting the earth or visiting the moon.

    So, Skylab was actually launched with no firm plans as to how or when it would return to Earth.

  • Skylab Proved That Humans Could Live And Work In Space

    Skylab Proved That Humans Could Live And Work In Space
    Video: YouTube

    After Skylab's first successful mission ended after 28 days in space in 1973, Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, Associate Director of Science at the Marshall Space Flight Center, and Leland F. Belew, Manager of the Skylab program, wrote that  “It may turn out to be the beginning of Man’s permanent foothold and settlement in space.”

    A total of three separate Skylab crews successfully spent 171 days in space, with each new crew breaking the record set by the previous crew. There were no recorded instances of health problems or other concerns related to human life in space. 

  • More Than 300 Scientific Experiments Were Conducted Aboard Skylab

    More Than 300 Scientific Experiments Were Conducted Aboard Skylab
    Video: YouTube

    News about activities aboard Skylab held the world in rapt attention. Not only were human beings living and working in space, but they were also actually communicating and cooperating with high school students on scientific projects. Talk about an interactive experience! Results of experiments connected with students on Earth as well as the astronaut's own projects were broadcast on TV and appeared on the covers of everything from Time to elementary school students' Weekly Reader. The experiments themselves ran the gamut - first, there were the obvious projects dealing with Earth observation, astronomy, and space physics. But everyone, and especially the astronauts, wanted to see how everything possible from Earth functioned in space.

    Experiments with plants and insects were conducted, along with biomedical and biological studies. They even conducted research into micro-gravity technology. If all of this sounds like what goes on at the International Space Station, that is exactly right. Skylab, which NASA preferred to call an "orbital workshop," laid the foundation of research and experiments that would follow later in space.

  • New Lifesaving Technologies Were Developed Thanks to Skylab

    New Lifesaving Technologies Were Developed Thanks to Skylab
    Video: YouTube

    When NASA was developing Skylab, they worked with Honeywell Corporation to create a device that would alert Skylab astronauts to the presence of smoke and gases. The ultimate result was what we call today a smoke detector. Countless lives have been saved since the commercial version of smoke detectors went on the market in 1979.

    NASA was also concerned about making sure Skylab astronauts were able to get enough good nutrition during their extended stay in space. Research yielded considerable improvements to the quality of food that was sent to feed the Skylab crews. This, in turn, helped to improve the quality of commercial baby food and products for people whose health needs require extra nutrition.

  • The Last Skylab Crew Lived In Space For 84 Days

    The Last Skylab Crew Lived In Space For 84 Days
    Video: YouTube

    Skylab's third and final mission launched on July 28, 1973, with goals to continue conducting scientific and medical experiments, and maintain the space station. The mission completed 858 Earth orbits and 59 days of solar and Earth experiments.

    Notably, the third Skylab mission surpassed the previous record for humans in space, which had been set by the crew of Skylab 2 only weeks earlier. The third mission also conducted a six hour space walk, during which they conducted a replacement for a sun shield. Among the many science experiments performed during their 84 day mission included an experiment designed by a student that included live spiders.