The notion of an orbiting space base -- the idea that ultimately became Skylab -- first surfaced in 1962 as a proposal to convert a spent Saturn V S-II rocket stage into an orbital workshop.
In 1968, the Marshall Space Flight Center proposed an alternative to the concept of refurbishing a space station in orbit. Instead, a fully equipped workshop, it was decided, could be launched as a complete unit ready for research visits from astronauts.
Launched 40 years ago in May 1973, Skylab became America's first space station. The goals for the space lab were primarily to enrich our scientific knowledge of the Earth, the sun, and the stars. Experiments tackled the basic notion of how space affects living beings. Skylab looked at the effects of weightlessness on man and other living organisms, the effects of the processing and manufacturing of materials utilizing the absence of gravity, and made Earth resource observations, as well as UV astronomy experiments and detailed X-ray studies of the sun.
Occupied in succession by three teams of three crew members, these crews spent 28, 59, and 84 days orbiting the Earth and performing nearly 300 experiments.
Skylab astronauts took this photograph as they approached the orbiting laboratory on the third and final mission in November 1973.
This felt pen sketch of the major Skylab components was drawn by George E. Mueller, NASA associate administrator for Manned Space Flight, at a meeting at the Marshall Space Flight Center on August 19, 1966.
General Davy Jones, first program director, added his initials and those of Dr. Mueller in the lower right corner.
This artist's concept shows Skylab with the Command/Service Module being docked to the Multiple Docking Adapter.
In an early effort to extend the use of Apollo for further applications, NASA established the Apollo Applications Program (AAP) in August of 1965. The AAP was to include long-duration Earth orbital missions during which astronauts would carry out scientific, technological, and engineering experiments in space by utilizing modified Saturn launch vehicles and the Apollo spacecraft. Established in 1970, the Skylab Program was the forerunner of the AAP.
This photograph was taken during installation of floor grids on the upper and lower floors inside the Skylab Orbital Workshop at the McDornell Douglas plant at Huntington Beach, Calif.
The lower level of the Orbital Workshop provided crew accommodations for sleeping; food preparation and consumption; hygiene; waste processing and disposal; and performance of certain experiments. The upper level consisted of a large work area and housed water storage tanks; a food freezer; storage vaults for film; scientific airlocks; mobility and stability experiment equipment; and other experimental equipment.
This photograph is an interior view of the Orbital Workshop upper level looking from the airlock hatch, showing the octagonal opening that separated the workshop's two levels. The trash airlock can be seen at the center of the photograph.
This illustration is a cutaway view of a half of the Skylab Orbital Workshop showing details of the living and working quarters.
The compartment below the crew quarters was a container for liquid and solid waste and trash accumulated throughout the mission. A two-winged solar array was mounted outside the workshop to augment the power generated by another solar array mounted on the solar observatory. Thrusters were provided at one end of the workshop for short-term control of the attitude of the space station.
The crew of Skylab-3 spent 59 days in orbit. In this photo, Astronaut Jack Lousma deploys the Twin Pole Sun Shield created by Marshall Space Flight Center team members to replace the micrometeoroid shield, a thin protective cylinder surrounding the workshop protecting it from tiny space particles and the sun's scorching heat. The shield was damaged during the Skylab-2 mission.
This spectacular view is a color-enhanced ultraviolet exposure of a colossal eruption, photographed during the Skylab-4 mission by the Apollo Telescope Mount facility on December 19, 1973. This giant prominence, one of the mightiest in 25 years, sparned a third of a million miles into space, roughly the distance between Earth and the moon.
This photograph was taken during the Skylab 3 mission, showing Astronaut Owen Garriott enjoying his meal in the Orbital Workshop crew wardroom. The tray contained heating elements for preparing the individual food packets.
The food on Skylab was a great improvement over that on earlier spaceflights. It was no longer necessary to squeeze liquified food from plastic tubes. Skylab's kitchen was so equipped that each crewman could select his own menu and prepare it to his own liking.
Astronaut Charles Conrad, Jr., Skylab 2 commander, smiles for the camera after a hot bath in the shower in the crew quarters of the Orbital Workshop of the Skylab space station. In deploying the shower facility, the shower curtain was pulled up from the floor and attached to the ceiling. The water came through a push button shower head attached to a flexible hose. Water was drawn off by a vacuum system.
Scientist-Astronaut Owen K. Garriott, Skylab 3 science pilot, trims the hair of Astronaut Alan L. Bean, commander, in this on-board photograph from the Skylab Orbital Workshop. Bean holds a vacuum hose to gather in loose hair.
Though clouds obscure part of the city of San Francisco and the mouth of the bay, many cultural and natural features, including the Bay Bridge, Candlestick Park, and the San Mateo and Dumbarton Bridges can be seen in this color infrared image.
The Great Himalayan Mountain Range is literally the top of the world, where mountains soar to more than 20,000 feet, effectively isolating Tibet from the rest of the world. The two lakes seen in the center of the image are the Laga Co and the Kunggyu Co, located just inside the border of Tibet.
A near vertical view of northeastern Italy including the Venice area is seen in this Skylab 3 Earth Resources Experiments Package S190-B infrared photograph taken from Skylab. The mountainous area is the Dolomite Alps. The most conspicuous stream northeast of Venice is the Piave River. The city near the center of the picture on the Brenta River is Bassano del Grappa. The large city of Padua is on the western bank of the Grenta near the clock.
A view of the Baton Rouge, La., area is seen in this Skylab 3 Earth Resources Package S190-B photograph taken from the Skylab space station in Earth orbit. The large body of water in the upper right hand corner is Lake Pontchartrain. The Mississippi river flows through the center of the photo.
The Detroit, Mich., metropolitan area, as photographed from the Skylab space station in Earth orbit. The Detroit River separates Detroit from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. The largest body of water is Lake Erie. The smaller body of water is Lake Saint Clair. This photograph was taken with the Earth Resources Experiment Package S190-B 5-inch Earth terrain camera.
Astronaut Jack R. Lousma, Skylab 3 pilot, participates in the August 6, 1973, extravehicular activity (EVA) -- aka spacewalk -- during which he and Astronaut Owen K. Garriott, science pilot, deployed the twin pole solar shield to help shade the Orbital Workshop. Note the reflection of the Apollo Telescope Mount and the Earth in Lousma's helmet visor.
During more than six years in operation, hundreds of experiments were done aboard Skylab, many of which paved the way for further human space exploration.
Circling 50 degrees north and south of the equator at an altitude of 435 km, Skylab had an orbital period of 93 minutes. Skylab fell from orbit on July 11, 1979, with much of the spacecraft burning up in the atmosphere, while some debris rained down in Western Australia.