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Part II – Life on Skylab

Originally Published Nov. 10, 2003

Part I – The History of Skylab | Part III – The Legacy of Skylab

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. Though 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 actually pretty normal.

The Skylab 2 prime crew test the food in the Skylab trainer at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
S73-20236 (1 March 1973) — The three members of the prime crew of the first manned Skylab mission dine on specially prepared Skylab space food in the wardroom of the crew quarters of the Skylab Orbital Workshop (OWS) trainer during Skylab training at the Johnson Space Center. They are, left to right, scientist-astronaut Joseph P. Kerwin, science pilot; astronaut Paul J. Weitz, pilot; and astronaut Charles Conrad Jr., commander.

Days began on Skylab at 6 a.m. (Houston time) and lasted until 10 p.m. At the beginning of each day, the astronauts would check the teletype machine to see what their orders were from Mission Control for that day. The crew would then use the restroom, weigh, and eat breakfast.

Their daily science assignments would rotate every day. Each took turns on things such 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,” Garriott said. “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. Carr 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.” They 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.

Extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) had been scheduled from the beginning to change out the film in the Apollo Telescope Mount. However the EVAs eventually became necessary to repair the station. During the EVAs, 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,” he said.

Owen Garriott performs an EVA on the Skylab space station
This onboard photograph depicts Astronaut Owen Garriott atop the Apollo Telescope Mount, removing a film magazine (white box) from one of Skylab’s solar telescopes during an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) in the second marned Skylab mission (Skylab-3). A long boom transported it back into the waiting hands of another crew member at the airlock door below. During the operation, Garriott, film, boom, and Skylab were 435 kilometers high and speeding around the Earth at 29,000 kilometers per/hour. Because they moved together with no wind resistance, there was little sense of motion.

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.



Last Updated
Jun 22, 2023