One of Skylab's most important functions was to study the feasibility of long-duration space missions. As a result, the ongoing activity of astronauts just going about their daily lives in orbit was one of the greatest of all the scientific experiments aboard the station. Although they were free-falling in Earth orbit, traveling at 16,000 miles per hour, the Skylab crew members said that everyday life on the station was rather normal.
The first Skylab crew enjoys a meal in space.
Days began on Skylab at 6 a.m. (Houston time) and lasted until 10 p.m. At the beginning of each day, the astronauts received their orders were from Mission Control.
Their daily science assignments would rotate each day. Each astronaut took turns performing such tasks as solar observation, and the astronaut who was the "guinea pig" for the medical evaluations one day would be performing those same evaluations on one of his crewmates the next.
"Between 8 and 10 at night, we had free time," Carr said. "For the most part, the most fun was looking out the window." Off-duty free time was often filled with still more science experiments. "We had a number of other things to do," said Owen Garriott, a member of the second crew. "We had the student experiments, for example."
The crews also had fun devising their own small experiments, some of which were later turned into educational videos for students worldwide. Gerald Carr, who commanded the second crewed mission, said he enjoyed this hobby. "It was such an interesting thing to turn loose a blob of water to see what you can do with it." This second crew also pulled a classic prank on mission controllers. The ground crew was shocked when Garriott's wife, Helen, called down to them from the station. The roomful of controllers sat confused until the crew burst into laughter--Garriott had recorded his wife's voice before the flight, and rehearsed the prank with capcom Bob Crippen.
Spacewalks had been scheduled from the beginning of the mission to change the film in the Apollo Telescope Mount. However, the spacewalks eventually became necessary to repair the station. During them, Garriott said, it was a thrill to "look down this very long elevator shaft" to the surface of the Earth. "It's quite an interesting view."
Astronaut Owen Garriott participates in spacewalk to deploy twin pole solar shield.
None of the astronauts expressed any concerns about the potential physical effects of the unprecedented spaceflight durations. Returning to Earth did take a little adjustment, though. In addition to a few days of readjusting to the physical effects of gravity, astronauts sometimes forgot that things do not work the same on Earth as they do in space, attempting to let things float as they would in microgravity.