Subj: Our FIRST space station
Date: 9/12/00 10:02:20 PM Pacific Daylight Time
From: (James Cleland)


Lest we forget, long ago we had a nice, big space station, Skylab...launched by a Saturn rocket, and larger than Mir. Cost a bundle of money. Astronauts visited it, I think, about 3 or 4 times. Then....
"An event that received considerable press coverage involved the fall of Skylab in 1979. Skylab was a manned space station whose measurements of the Sun from above the atmosphere generated important new insights into the operation of the Sun. It had not been intended to allow Skylab to fall, and when it did, it was not clear just where this massive object would come down. A report of the National Academy of Sciences describes what happened:

It became a media event with all the ingredients of suspense and potential for catastrophe to frighten a confused public. When the last astronaut left Skylab in 1974, it was thought that the spacecraft was in a safe parking-orbit, where it could await a visit by an early Space Shuttle flight, which would push it to a higher orbit for safekeeping until it could be refurbished and reactivated. Unfortunately, the plan was frustrated by a delay in the Space Shuttle schedule and by the rapid rise of solar activity toward sunspot maximum. With high sunspot activity came a hotter and denser atmosphere at Skylab altitude, which increased the drag on Skylab and caused the orbit to decay much faster than anticipated. Skylab thus fell victim to solar activity. Our inability to predict where it would fall exemplifies our current lack of instruments to observe with adequate precision the solar output of extreme ultraviolet and X-rays, which control the density of the atmosphere at satellite altitudes.

And so Skylab was destroyed by the activity of the Sun that it had been designed, in part, to study. Fortunately, after a fiery reentry, its remains fell in a remote area of Australia and harmed no one. Scientists and politicians, along with everyone else who had been following the story, breathed a sigh of relief."