Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Skylab 4: Around the world during 84 days

It was the morning of November 16, 1973, and America was enjoying the success of their first space station.

A Saturn 1B rocket lifted off to carry America's third crew to the Skylab space station orbiting 270 miles above.

Commanded by Gerald "Jerry" Carr, the Skylab 4 mission set out to become a human endurance test to help simulate a flight time to the planet Mars; perform astrophysics research; and to study the Earth's ever-changing atmosphere and landscape.

The three man crew included science pilot Dr. Edward Gibson and pilot William R. Pogue.

This would become the third manned Skylab flight coming on the heels of Skylab 2 and 3 earlier in the year.

Skylab 2 opened the orbital workshop and the crew, commanded by moon walker Charles Conrad spent an American record 28 days in space. Skylab 3 later beat that record by living and working in orbit for 59 days. The actual launch of the space station is known as Skylab 1.

During the opening days of America's thirtieth manned space flight, Carr and Pogue overcame space sickness, a problem which at least one in every crew experiences during the first day of space flight.

One week into their flight, Gibson and Pogue performed the first of four spacewalks. This orbital walk lasted six and one-half hours as they installed fresh film in cameras which took solar observations and repaired an antenna.

The crew spent the holidays in space, including a second spacewalk on Christmas day; and on January 23, 1974, Pogue celebrated his 44th birthday aboard the space station.

Carr expressed the fun he and his crew had as they made-up experiments in microgravity, "It was such an interesting thing to turn loose a blob of water to see what you can do with it."

Completing work on over ninety-five experiments during twelve weeks including observing Comet Kohoutek, the Apollo command module undocked from Skylab for the final time.

Twelve hours after undocking on February 8, 1974, the crew landed their module in the waters of the Pacific Ocean just north of Hawaii -- the same region in which the first two Skylab's had splashed down.

Prior to the crew's departure, the station was placed in a safe mode, and the crew even used Apollo to boost the orbital workshop into a higher orbit.

It was during this time that NASA was aiming to have the space shuttle operational by 1979, as to fly up to and reboost Skylab in the hopes of reactivating it.

However, extreme solar activity forced the Skylab's orbit to decay at a quicker rate. At just after midnight on July 12, 1979, the space station plunged into the earth's atmosphere where fragments rained down over sections of Australia.

Visitors to the Marshall Space Flight Center's Space and Rocket Center in Alabama can view one large section -- an insulated oxygen tank.

The command module hangs high above at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, D.C.

The Skylab missions rewrote the books on living and working for long periods in space.

Skylab taught us that humans can spend three months in the microgravity environment with no ill effects. NASA scientists learned that astronauts can loose calcium without a proper diet; muscle loss without proper exercise; and a pint of blood can be lost from your system during several weeks in space.

Skylab 4 totals:
Duration.... MET+ 84 days, 1 hour and 15 minutes
Traveled..... 34,469,696 miles
Orbits......... 1,214 revolutions

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