Skylab: America’s First Space Station

Parts of Skylab, America’s first space station, come crashing down on Australia and into the Indian Ocean five years after the last manned Skylab mission ended. No one was injured.

Skylab was the first United States space station launched and operated by NASA, and occupied for about 24 weeks between May 1973 and February 1974 – the only space station the U.S has operated exclusively.

Launched in 1973, Skylab was world’s first successful space station. The first manned Skylab mission came two years after the Soviet Union launched Salynut 1, the world’s space station, into the orbit around the earth. However, unlike the ill-fated Salynut, which was plagued with problems, the American space station was a great success, safely housing three separate three- man crews for extended periods of time.

The Unmanned Skylab was launched into the orbit by a Saturn V booster. Almost Immediately, Technical problems developed due to vibrations during lift off.



The Sky lab consist of orbital workshop (the main habitable space inside Skylab), Apollo Telescope Mount (A multi-Spectral solar observatory), Multiple Docking Adapter (with two docking ports), Airlock Module with extravehicular activity (EVA) hatches. Electrical power came from the solar arrays, as well as fuel cells in the docked Apollo CSM. The rear of the station includes a large waste tank, propellant tanks for maneuvering jets, and a heat radiator. The sky lab was 30.2 meters in length and 6.7 meters in diameter and had a mass of about 75000 kg.

The Tragic End

During the launch the sky lab was damaged, when the Micrometeoroid shield tore away from the workshop taking one of the main solar panel arrays with it and jamming the other main array with it and jamming the other main array. This deprived Skylab of most of its electrical power, and also removed protection from intense solar heating, threatening to make it unusable. The first crew was able to save Skylab by deploying the replacement heat shade and freeing the jammed solar panels .This was the first time a repair of this magnitude had been performed in space.

Five Years after the last Skylab mission, the space station’s orbit began to deteriorate- earlier than was anticipated – because of unexpectedly high sunspot activity. On July 11, 1979, Skylab made a spectacular return to earth breaking up in atmosphere and showering burning debris over the Indian Ocean and Australia.


Three successive three-man crews lived on board the station for 28, 56 and 84 days in orbit- an American record that stood until the shuttle era. Astronauts aboard the station conducted 270 experiments in biomedical and life sciences, solar astronomy, Earth observations and materials processing. Among the most important were investigations on the astronaut’s physiological response to long duration space flights

Solar Science was significantly advanced by the telescope and observation of the Sun was unprecedented. A lot of Photographs of the earth were captured and the Earth Resources Experiment Package (EREP) viewed Earth with sensors that recorded data in the visible, Infrared, and microwave spectral regions.

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