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Skylab
Skylab (SL-4).jpg
Skylab as photographed by its departing final crew (Skylab 4)
Skylab Program Patch.png
Skylab program insignia
Station statistics
COSPAR ID 1973-027A
Call sign Skylab
Crew 3 per mission (9 total)
Launch May 14, 1973
17:30:00 UTC
Carrier rocket Saturn V
Launch pad Kennedy Space Center LC-39A
Reentry July 11, 1979
16:37:00 UTC
near Perth, Australia
Mission status Complete
Mass 170,000 lb (77,000 kg)
w/o Apollo CSM
Length 82.4 feet (25.1 m)
w/o Apollo CSM
Width 55.8 feet (17.0 m)
w/ one solar panel
Height 36.3 feet (11.1 m)
w/ telescope mount
Diameter 21.67 feet (6.6 m)
Pressurised volume 12,417 cu ft (351.6 m3)
Atmospheric pressure 5.0 psi (34 kPa) Oxygen 74%, nitrogen 26%
Perigee 269.7 mi (434.0 km)
Apogee 274.6 mi (441.9 km)
Orbital inclination 50°
Orbital period 93.4 min
Orbits per day 15.4
Days in orbit 2,249 days
Days occupied 171 days
No. of orbits 34,981
Distance travelled ~890,000,000 mi (1,400,000,000 km)
Statistics as of Re-entry July 11, 1979
Configuration
Skylab illustration.jpg
Skylab configuration as planned

Skylab was the first United States space station, launched by NASA, occupied for about 24 weeks between May 1973 and February 1974. It was operated by three separate three-man crews: SL-2, SL-3 and SL-4. Major operations included an orbital workshop, a solar observatory, Earth observation, and hundreds of experiments.

Unable to be re-boosted by the Space Shuttle, which was not ready until the early 1980s, Skylab burned up in the Earth's atmosphere in 1979, over the Pacific Ocean.

Overview

As of 2019 it was the only space station operated exclusively by the United States. A permanent US station was planned starting in 1969, but funding for this was canceled and replaced with US participation in an International Space Station in 1993.

Skylab included a workshop, a solar observatory, and several hundred life science and physical science experiments, and was launched uncrewed into low Earth orbit by a modified Saturn V rocket, with a weight of 170,000 pounds (77,000 kg). This was the final mission for the Saturn V rocket, more commonly known for carrying the crewed Moon landing missions. Three subsequent missions delivered three-astronaut crews in the Apollo command and service module (Apollo CSM) launched by the smaller Saturn IB rocket. For the final two crewed missions to Skylab, NASA assembled a backup Apollo CSM/Saturn IB in case an in-orbit rescue mission was needed, but this vehicle was never flown. The station was damaged during launch 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. 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 deployed a replacement heat shade and freed the jammed solar panels to save Skylab. This was the first time that a repair of this magnitude was performed in space.

Skylab included the Apollo Telescope Mount (a multi-spectral solar observatory), a multiple docking adapter with two docking ports, an airlock module with extravehicular activity (EVA) hatches, and the orbital workshop, the main habitable space inside Skylab. Electrical power came from solar arrays and fuel cells in the docked Apollo CSM. The rear of the station included a large waste tank, propellant tanks for maneuvering jets, and a heat radiator. Astronauts conducted numerous experiments aboard Skylab during its operational life. The telescope significantly advanced solar science, and observation of the Sun was unprecedented. Astronauts took thousands of photographs of Earth, and the Earth Resources Experiment Package (EREP) viewed Earth with sensors that recorded data in the visible, infrared, and microwave spectral regions. The record for human time spent in orbit was extended beyond the 23 days set by the Soyuz 11 crew aboard Salyut 1 to 84 days by the Skylab 4 crew.

Later plans to reuse Skylab were stymied by delays in development of the Space Shuttle, and Skylab's decaying orbit could not be stopped. Skylab's atmospheric reentry began on July 11, 1979, amid worldwide media attention. Before re-entry, NASA ground controllers tried to adjust Skylab's orbit to minimize the risk of debris landing in populated areas, targeting the south Indian Ocean, which was partially successful. Debris showered Western Australia, and recovered pieces indicated that the station had disintegrated lower than expected. As the Skylab program drew to a close, NASA's focus had shifted to the development of the Space Shuttle. NASA space station and laboratory projects included Spacelab, Shuttle-Mir, and Space Station Freedom, which was merged into the International Space Station.

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