The extraordinary life aboard NASA’s Skylab, 1970s

Skylab was America's first step towards creating something other than a good place to visit. Developed in the shadow of the Apollo Moon mission and using hardware originally built for Apollo, the Skylab space station took the nation's astronauts from space explorer to spaceflight. The program proved that humans can live and work successfully in space.

To many members of the public, Skylab is probably best known for two things - its beginning and its end. During the launch of the Skylab workshop in May 1973, an unexpected problem damaged the station and its way into orbit. And of course, Skylab caught the world's attention in 1979 over the Indian Ocean and Australia and made its furious return.

But among those books lies a great story from an important period in the history of spacecraft. Skylab was operated by three different astronauts: Skylab 2, Skylab 3 and Skylab 4. Major operations included an orbital workshop, a solar observatory, Earth observation and hundreds of experiments.

Whereas previous US space flights focused on places to go, Skylab somewhere, somewhere, was about not only going through the unprecedented space environment, but mastering it. Much of what was to come later in US spaceflight was made possible by this foundation – from scientific research in microgravity on spacecraft to on-orbit assembly of the International Space Station.

Even the unforeseen challenges that arose during the Skylab program turned into opportunities. The cost that crippled the spacecraft during launch became a rallying point for NASA and caused a repair effort that was unplanned and unprecedented and perhaps still unparalleled.

Contrary to decades of science fiction lore, living and operating in space is not without its dangers, which go far beyond meteorites and solar flares. After three million years of evolution on Earth, humans are no longer adapted to function in space under microgravity conditions.

This news began to hit home between 1965 and 1967, when astronauts on the Gemini 4, 5, and 7 missions, and later Soyuz 9 astronauts in 1970, were found to be suffering from mild bone loss, now called spaceflight osteopenia. goes. In addition to bone loss, other psychological effects have also been reported, such as the effect of blood coagulation in the upper body and nausea induced by prolonged dizziness and "space sickness".

One of the goals of the program was to send rotation teams of astronauts via Saturn IB boosters to Skylab and conduct detailed medical research on their process of adaptation to the microgravity environment. Skylab was outfitted with an exercise bide and a super mini-gym, a kind of centrifugal exercise machine that astronauts were encouraged to use to maintain fitness.

There was a zero-gravity shower system in the Work and Experiments section of the Orbital Workshop, designed and built at the Manned Spacecraft Center at Skylab. It had a cylindrical curtain running from floor to ceiling and a vacuum system to absorb water. There were reins on the floor of the shower.

The system was designed to hold approximately 6 pints (2.8 litres) of water per shower, with water being drawn from a personal hygiene water tank. The use of both liquid soap and water was carefully planned, with enough soap and hot water for one shower per person per week

The scientific return from Skylan was enormous, not only in terms of the study of the Sun, but also in terms of the knowledge gained about the effects of prolonged spaceflight on humans. Pioneering advances were made in understanding the effects of bone loss, blood coagulation in the upper extremities, and the effects of vigorous exercise on these conditions.

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