Skylab was the United States’ first space station. Launched on May 14, 1973, NASA felt it needed to establish a separate space station from the International Space Station (ISS) for crew members to live in outer space. Skylab orbited Earth 2,476 times during the 171 days and 13 hours of its occupation during the three manned Skylab missions. Some of the solar experiments conducted on these missions included photographing eight solar flares and determining the existence of the Sun’s coronal holes.
- An early Shuttle flight would boost Skylab to a higher orbit, adding five years to Skylab’s operational lifespan. While the shuttle might have pushed or towed the station into orbit, attaching a booster—the Teleoperated Retrieval System (TRS)—to the station was more likely, based on astronauts’ training for the task. Martin Marietta won the contract for the $26 million TRS, which contained about three tons of propellant, and began work in April 1978.
- In two shuttle flights, Skylab would be refurbished. In January 1982, the first mission would attach a docking adapter and conduct repairs. In August 1983, a second crew would replace several system components.
- In March 1984, shuttle crews would attach a solar-powered Power Expansion Package, refurbish scientific equipment, and conduct 30- to 90-day missions using the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) and the earth resources experiments.
- Over five years, Skylab would be expanded to accommodate six to eight astronauts, with a new large docking/interface module, additional logistics modules, Spacelab modules and pallets, and an orbital vehicle space dock using the shuttle’s external tank.
The first three phases would have required about $60 million in 1980s dollars, not including launch costs. However, due to delays in preparing the Space Shuttles by about two years, NASA decided to abandon all plans for boosting the station, and allowed it to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. As of today, NASA continues to look for alternatives to Skylab.
NASA produced a documentary about Skylab. Here is the first part:
Here is the second part: