Skylab 2

Skylab 2

LAUNCH CONTROL: T-minus 30 seconds, and the countdown continuing to go smoothly. …

Skylab — the first American space station — was going to be a fixer-upper. It was damaged during launch on May 14th, 1973. So when the first team of astronauts headed for the station 50 years ago today, it had a lot of work to do.

LAUNCH CONTROL: 5, 4, 3, engine sequence start, 2, 1, zero. We have launch commit, and we have liftoff! The clock is running, and Skylab has cleared the tower. CONRAD: Houston, Skylab 2. We fix anything!

But the “fixing” wasn’t easy. Astronauts Pete Conrad, Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz set out to repair their damaged home. It had lost a protective shield and one of two solar panels, with the other one jammed shut. If the astronauts couldn’t fix the problems, they’d have to come home and let the next crew take a shot.

And at first, things didn’t go well. A tool designed to free the jammed solar panel didn’t work. And at the end of the first day in orbit, their Apollo spacecraft wouldn’t link up with the station. They had to take the docking system apart to fix the problem.

The crew moved into Skylab, then deployed a cover to bring down the temperatures. And ground controllers eventually worked out a way to fix the balky solar panel. So the mission continued. The astronauts studied Earth, the Sun, and how their bodies reacted to a record 28 days in orbit — a record that stood until the next Skylab mission later that year.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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