We talk a lot about the International Space Station around here. In fact, only a few days ago we talked about the ammonia leak from the cooling system aboard the ISS that NASA and space station crew members were working to fix. While it’s easy to think of the ISS as NASA’s first space station, that would be incorrect.
NASA had a space station in orbit around the Earth in the early 70s called Skylab. The 40th anniversary of the launch of Skylab is today. You may be wondering exactly where Skylab is, and the answer to that is that not only is it no longer and space, but most of it isn’t in the United States. NASA placed crews aboard the Skylab space station from 1973 through 1974.
Skylab crews consisted of three astronauts and between May 1973 in February of 1974 three different crews lived briefly aboard the space station. Skylab was later abandoned, but NASA had hoped to possibly reactivate the station using the space shuttle fleet which was then in development. The problem for Skylab was that it was in an orbit that was too low and NASA was unable to boost the space station into a higher orbit.
In 1979, Skylab reentered the Earth’s atmosphere over the southern Indian Ocean. Skylab was large enough that several pieces of the space station survived reentry and ended up impacting along the south coast of Western Australia. The reentry of Skylab was said to be mostly uncontrolled and created a media sensation at the time.
Another problem with the reentry for NASA was that the Skylab reentered the atmosphere several minutes earlier than predicted and on a slightly different course than predicted. Some sections of Skylab ended up getting the ground in the Australian outback near Balladonia on Australia’s Nullarbor Plain. The largest pieces of Skylab reportedly recovered include the oxygen tanks that supply breathable air Astronauts living on the space station. The surviving components now reside in the town of Esperance, which boasts 10,000 residents and is about 450 miles from Perth. Other components that survived reentry included the space station storage freezer, water tank, nitrogen spheres, and a portion of the hatch used to enter the space station.