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Glenn Research Center’s Role in Skylab 3

Skylab was America’s first experimental space station. Designed for long duration missions, the Skylab program objectives were twofold: to prove that humans could live and work in space for extended periods, and to expand our knowledge of solar astronomy well beyond Earth-based observations. The Skylab 3 mission covered the operations of the second crew consisting of Alan L. Bean, Jack R. Lousma and Owen K. Garriott. The mission, launched on July 28, 1973, continued maintenance of the space station and extensive scientific and medical experiments, completing 858 Earth orbits and 59 days, 11 hours of solar and Earth experiments.

This mission more than doubled the previous endurance record in space, just set by the astronauts of Skylab 2 just a month earlier. After an early bout with motion sickness, the crew settled down for their two-month mission, deploying a second sun shield on a space walk lasting six hours, 30 minutes. They conducted many experiments, and brought with them live spiders to conduct a student-designed experiment to see what kinds of webs the spiders would spin in weightlessness.

Also on this mission the astronauts finally got to test the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit, or AMU, which had initially been carried into space aboard Gemini IX but could not be tested then because of problems with the old Gemini space suit. The AMU experiments assisted engineers in designing the Manned Maneuvering Unit, which was first flown aboard the Shuttle flight STS 41B in February, 1984.

Splashdown was on September 25, 1973. Our thanks go to the crew of the recovery ship USS New Orleans for recovering the command module so that we can share this piece of history with the public.

A Shroud of Protection

Metallic protective cover for Skylab at Glenn Research Center
Skylab Shroud installed in the NASA Lewis Research Center’s (now known as the Glenn Research Center) Plum Brook Station, Space Power Facility. The shroud protected the upper section of the Skylab space station, including its solar power arrays. When it was constructed, the Space Power Facility (SPF) was the world’s largest vacuum chamber. It stands more than 122 feet high, 100 feet in diameter and provides a vacuum environment for the study of space propulsion. Originally commissioned for nuclear-electric propulsion studies, the SPF has been recommissioned for current and future use in the ongoing research and development of space propulsion systems. Credits: NASA

The NASA Glenn Research Center’s contributions to Skylab included the testing of the Skylab shroud installed in the Space Power Facility at Glenn’s Plum Brook Station. The testing was conducted in December of 1970. The shroud protected the upper section of the rocket that housed parts of the Skylab space station, including its retracted solar power arrays, during launch aboard the Saturn V rocket on May 14, 1973.
Payload shrouds are used through the atmospheric portion of a rocket’s ascent. Afterwards, pyrotechnics split the shroud into two halves and they fall back, away from the rocket and into the ocean. Testing in a vacuum chamber is required to verify that the system creates a clean separation that will not damage the payload or the rocket.

Glenn’s Visitor Center is pleased to be the home of the Apollo Command Module used for Skylab 3, our most popular exhibit. It’s a tribute to NASA Glenn’s many contributions to the Apollo program.