More Skylab

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More Skylab

Spaceflight is never easy. Just ask the folks who operated Skylab, the first American space station.

It launched on May 14th, 1973. Just a minute into the flight, though, it was in trouble. A protective shield ripped away. It took a solar panel with it, and jammed a second one shut. Without the shield and the panels, there wasn’t enough power to support the station, and the temperature inside the lab soared to 130 degrees. The launch of the first crew of astronauts had to be scrubbed.

Skylab was as roomy as a three-bedroom house. It was designed to house three astronauts for up to two months at a time. They would watch Earth and the Sun, conduct experiments, and study how their bodies adapted to life in orbit. Unless engineers could find a way to fix the problems, though, the station would have to be abandoned.

It took a few days, but they worked out a plan. An astronaut would stand in the hatch of his Apollo spacecraft. He would use a pair of bolt cutters on a long pole to free the jammed solar panel. Later, another astronaut would poke a parasol through an airlock on the back of the station. It would open up and reflect the sunlight, bringing down the temperature.

And it worked. The first crew made the repairs, then started on its main mission. Two other crews followed. The last remained aboard for 84 days — a record that stood for several years — thanks to the efforts of the engineers who saved Skylab.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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