Skylab was the first US space station and the world’s first big space station. It was launched on May 14th, 1973 by a Saturn V Rocket. Skylab Space Station was assembled from Saturn V and Apollo components. Skylab’s purpose was to serve as a laborarory for scientific experiments in space until February 1974.

Picture of Skylab Space Station

An Apollo Spacecraft was used to transport the crew to Skylab and to return them to the Earth’s surface. It was a launched on a Saturn 1B rocket.

Skylab was used to study:

– the Sun.
– microgravity research
– learn more about Earth.
– to test the effects of long-duration space flights and to see how the human body reacts in space
– to helped us learn to live and work in space.
– to conduct a variety of scientific and technological experiments, such as metallic-crystal growth in the weightless state.
– and function as a laboratory in earth orbit.

Skylab Specifications:

Structure Weight: 91 metric ton (100-ton)
Height: 36 metres (118 feet)
Diamater: 6.7 metres (22 feet)
Altitude of Orbit: 435km (270 miles)
Orbital Mass
Habitable Volume283 cubic metres (10,000 cubic feet)

Skylab Space Station was a modified third stage of a Saturn V moon rocket. Skylab was actually the refitted S-IVB second stage of a Saturn IB booster (from the AS-212 vehicle), a leftover from the Apollo program originally intended for one of the canceled Apollo earth orbital missions. A product of the Apollo Applications program (a program tasked with finding long-term uses for Apollo program hardware).

Skylab consisted of five parts:

  • Orbital Workshop was the living and working area for the crew.
  • Airlock Module was used by the Astronauts to access the outside of Skylab for spacewalks.
  • Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) was attached to one end of the cylindrical workshop. It was used to study our sun, stars and earth with no atmospheric interference.
  • Multiple Docking Adapter allowed more than one Apollo spacecraft to dock to the station at once.
  • The Saturn Instrument Unit (IU) was used by NASA teams in Huntsville to reprogram the space station using a massive ring of computers. The unit was used to guide Skylab itself into orbit. IU also controlled the jettisoning of the protective payload shroud and activated the onboard life support systems, started the solar inertial attitude maneuver, deployed the Apollo Telescope mount at a 90-degree angle and deployed Skylab’s solar wings.


Skylab orbited Earth 2,476 times during the 171 days and 13 hours of its occupation during the three manned Skylab missions. Astronauts performed ten spacewalks totalling 42 hours 16 minutes.

Skylab 1 – May 14, 1973 Unmanned

A two-stage version of the Saturn V rocket launched Skylab to orbit on May 14, 1973 from the NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

During the launch, the station was damaged. A critical meteoroid shield and one of the station’s two main solar panels were ripped off and the other solar panel was not fully stretched out. That meant that Skylab had little electrical power and the internal temperature rose to 126 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius).

The Saturn V rocket on Pad A of Launch Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center.

Originally it was planned that a crew would be launched from Earth the next day to inhabit the space station. Sixty-three seconds after liftoff, however, a critical meteoroid shield ripped off, taking one of the craft’s two solar panels with it and preventing the other from deploying properly. Ground command maneuvered Skylab so its solar panels faced the Sun to provide as much electricity as possible. But because the meteoroid shield was gone (which also operated as a sun shield), temperatures inside the workshop rose to 126˚F (52˚C). The launch of Skylab 2 (the first crew to inhabit the space station) was postponed for 10 days while scientists, engineers, astronauts and management personnel at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and elsewhere developed procedures and trained the crew to make the workshop habitable. At the same time, engineers “rolled” Skylab to lower the temperature of the workshop.

Almost immediately, technical problems developed due to vibrations during lift-off. A critical meteoroid shield ripped off taking one of the craft’s two solar panels with it; a piece of the shield wrapped around the other panel keeping it from deploying. Skylab was maneuvered so its Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) solar panels faced the Sun to provide as much electricity as possible. Because of the loss of the meteoroid shield, however, this positioning caused workshop temperatures to rise to 52 degrees Celsius (126 degrees F). The launch of Skylab 2 was postponed while NASA engineers, in an intensive 10-day period, developed procedures and trained the crew to make the workshop habitable. At the same time, engineers “rolled” Skylab to lower the temperature of the workshop.

On the first launch, part of Skylab fell off. It tore one solar panel. It wrapped around the other panel so it could not open. The crew was supposed to go up the next day. They had to wait until a way to solve these problems was found. They flew to Skylab 11 days later. The first thing they had to do was fix the problems.

Skylab 2

Skylab 2 was launched on May 25, 1973 and landed on June 22, 1973. The  mission duration was  28 days, 50 minutes. This was the first manned mission to Skylab. They orbited the Earth 404 times, completed 392 experiment hours, and carried out three spacewalks totalling six hours, 20 minutes.

The first Skylab crew were:
– Charles C. Conrad Jr.
– Paul J. Weitz
– Joseph P. Kerwin

The first task was to make repairs. These included positioning of a parasol sunshade that cooled the inside temperatures to a more comfortable 75˚F (23.8˚C). By June 4, 10 days after launch, the workshop was fully operational, and the crew began to conduct solar astronomy and Earth resources experiments, medical studies, and student experiments. In the period up to June 22, when the crew left for home.

Skylab was damaged during launch on May 25, 1973, but the crew, veteran astronaut Conrad (Commander), Joseph P. Kerwin, and Paul J. Weitz, all of the navy, carried out EVA repairs, erected a heat-shielding canopy over the exterior of the spacecraft and freed a jammed solar panel. Their flight lasted 28 days.


The first crew was launched 10 days later to fix the ailing station. The astronauts stretched out the remaining solar panel and set up an umbrella-like sunshade to cool the station.

Joe Kerwin was on the first Skylab crew. He said that the first 2 weeks on the station were very hard. They did not have enough power to run things. They didn’t even have enough power to make coffee! The crew had to change their plans until everything was fixed. Once the power was running, the crew could start the real work on Skylab.

Skylab 3

Skylab 3 was launched on July 28, 1973 and landed on September 25, 1973. This was the second Skyab maned mission. The mission duration was 59 days, 11 hours. The crew completed 858 Earth orbits and 1,081 hours of solar and Earth experiments and carried out three spacewalks totalling 13 hours, 43 minutes.

The second crew were:

– Alan L. Bean
– Jack R. Lousma
– Owen K. Garriott

After an early bout of motion sickness, they continued the work of the previous crew. Garriott and Lousma deployed a second sun shield during a spacewalk that lasted six and a half hours.

The second crew also had a problem. On the way up, Jack Lousma looked out the window. He thought he saw a nozzle floating by. It wasn’t. It was a piece of ice. That ice showed there was a problem. There was a leak in the engine. Once the crew was on the station, another engine started leaking. People on the ground were afraid that the crew might not be able to come home. A rescue mission was planned. Two astronauts would fly to Skylab to bring the crew back home. But, they didn’t have to go. The capsule that took the crew to Skylab was able to bring them home safely.

Installed twinpole solar shield durng space  walk, performed major inflight maintenace, doubled prvious length of time in space.

Skylab 4

Skylab 4 was lauched on November 16, 1973 and landed on February 8, 1974. This was the final mamed mission to Skylab. The mission duration was 84 days, 1 hour. At 84 days and 1 hour, Skylab 4 remains the longest U.S. spaceflight to date. The crew completed 1,214 Earth orbits and four spacewalks totalling 22 hours, 13 minutes. Increased previous length in space by 50%.

The last skylab crew were:

– Gerald P. Carr
– William R. Pogue
– Edward G. Gibson

The crew used a treadmill in addition to the on-board bicycle-like ergometer to help stay in shape. The last of the Skylab missions, its experiments. They observed and photgraphed Comet Kohoutek.

The Skylab project was considered completely successful. More than 740 hr were spent in observing the sun by telescopes, and 175,000 solar pictures were returned to earth, as were about 64 km (about 40 mi) of electronic data tape and 46,000 photographs of the earth’s surface. On July 11, 1979, during its 34,981st orbit, Skylab plunged to earth, raining fiery debris over sparsely populated western Australia and over the Indian Ocean.

during the three manned Skylab missions.

When the flight of the third crew was finished, Skylab was abandoned. Skylab remained aloft until intense solar flare activity caused its orbit to decay sooner than expected. Skylab re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned over Australia in 1979.

Following the last mission the Station was positioned in a parking orbit expected to last at least 8 years. Increased solar activity heating the outer layers of the earth’s atmosphere and thereby increasing drag on the Station led to an early reentry on July 11, 1979. Skylab disintegrated over Western Australia and the Indian Ocean, casting large pieces of debris in populated areas (fortunately, the only casualty being an Australian cow). The reentry prevented any further use by the then unfinished Space Shuttle as was envisioned by some at NASA.

After all crew activities had been completed and the crews had returned to Earth, Skylab was positioned into a stable attitude and systems were shut down. It was expected that Skylab would remain in orbit for eight to ten years. However, in the fall of 1977, Skylab was no longer flying in a stable attitude as a result of greater than predicted solar activity. On July 11, 1979, the empty Skylab spacecraft returned to Earth, scattering debris from the south-eastern Indian Ocean across a sparsely settled region of western Australia. NASA and the U.S. space program were criticized for allowing this to happen-ranging from the sale of hardhats as “Skylab Survival Kits” to serious questions about the propriety of space flight altogether if people were likely to be killed by falling debris. It was an inauspicious ending to the first American space station, not one that its originators had envisioned. Nevertheless, the experiment had whetted the appetite of NASA leaders for a permanent presence in space

On the 11th July, 1979, Skylab re-entered the Earth’s atmoshpere and scattered debris over the Indian Ocean and the sparsely settled region of Western Australia.

Three crews visited Skylab. Each of the Skylab crews set new time records. The last crew set a record that was not broken for over 20 years.

Did you know?

* Two flight-quality Skylabs were built. The second (backup) is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, USA.

* Skylab was launched in one launch and required no assembly. The International Space Station (ISS) will take many years to put together in orbit.

* Skylab was the first and only United States Space Station to date. The ISS involves many countries.


In 1969 a Space Task Group recommended to President Richard Nixon a space program to follow the missions to the Moon. The plan included a permanently occupied space station, a reusable shuttle spacecraft, and eventual missions to Mars. But because of increasing budget pressures these ideas received little political or public support. Only the Space Shuttle won favor and funding, and even that decision was controversial.

When the last two Apollo missions were cancelled, NASA used some of the remaining Apollo hardware for an experimental space station, Skylab, as an interim program before the Shuttle was ready to fly.

Although the STS-107 spiders were the first Australian animals in space, they weren’t the first spiders in space. Anita and Arabella, two female cross spiders (Araneus diadematus) went into orbit in 1973 for Skylab 3 space station. Like the STS-107 experiment, the Skylab experiment was a student project. Judy Miles, from Lexington, Massachusetts, wanted to know if spiders could spin webs in near-weightlessness. Here is Judith Miles:

In zero gravity, a lot of things tumble, roll, flip and tip. Can you name something that spins in zero-gravity? Hint: it has eight legs and would scare Miss Muffet.

That’s right: a spider. In this case, two of them. Anita and Arabella took off into space way back in 1973. They were on board Skylab, an early, experimental orbiting space station. Also on board were 720 fruit flies, six mice, two minnows and 50 minnow eggs! Busy place.

What was this creature-zoo up to? They were all part of student experiments. Anita and Arabella were onboard for high school student Judy Miles from Lexington, Massachusetts. Judy wondered if spiders could spin webs in weightlessness. Good question.

So, the lucky student got to team up with NASA space scientists to design an experiment that would measure how well spiders weave their webs in space.

So what did Judy and NASA learn? Zero gravity didn’t stop Anita and Arabella from doing what spiders do — spin webs.

This little bit of
first spider in space

Spiders have been astronauts in space missions. In 1973, the two common cross spiders “aranous diadematus” Arabella and Anita became famous for their stay in the Skylab space station.

Both spiders were successful in spinning webs in weightlessness; examples can be seen in above images.

Unfortunately, these two spiders did not return safely: Anita died in-flight before returning, and Arabella was found dead after splash-down of the Skylab-3 (2nd manned mission) Apollo CM.

Arabella and Anita have the right stuff. These two common spiders were NASA’s first eight-legged astronauts! Anita and Arabella got their mission because a high-school student named Judy Miles wondered if spiders could spin webs in a weightless environment. She suggested sending spiders into space to find out. NASA space scientists liked her proposal and went to work designing special cages, lights, and cameras.
On August 5, 1973, Arabella and Anita blasted off into space on Skylab II. On her first day in orbit, Arabella didn’t do well. She spun sloppy webs and obviously felt the effects of weightlessness. However, by her third day in space, she was spinning just as though she were back at home. Her webs were finer in space, which was expected. But the pattern remained the same. She proved that spiders can spin nearly Earth-like webs in space.

Though Arabella and Anita have both died, their bodies remain at the Smithsonian, memorialized for their small, vital part in increasing our knowledge of space.

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