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40 years ago NASA's Skylab Space Station fell to Earth

50th Apollo 11 This is not the only big anniversary of manned flights this month.

Forty years ago today (11 July), the late NASA Skylab Space Station came crushing on Earth, dropping large pieces of material in the Indian Ocean and across Western Australia.

The fall marked the official end of the first crewed American Orbital Station – and prompted the Australian city of Esperance to charge NASA $ 400 for its waste.

Related: Skylab: The First US Space Station (Photos)

Skylab exploited the Apollo material that had been left after the cancellation of the last three moon program missions in the early 1970s. (NASA also used some of this equipment for the Apollo-Soyuz test project, historical space mission of 1975 with the Soviet Union.)

Skylab itself was a modified third floor of a Saturn V lunar rocket, and launched at the top of a Saturn V on May 14, 1973 – the last mission for the story booster. The astronauts traveled to Skylab in the Apollo Command and Service Module, built by the Saturn 1 Saturn 1B, the smallest cousin.

NASA's Skylab plans included three crewed missions, each carrying three astronauts.

The first crew took off just 11 days after Skylab left and took flight on 25 May 1973. The three astronauts – Charles Conrad, Paul Weitz and Joseph Kerwin – remained in the air for 28 days, establishing a record for the longest continuous relay in the space. . (The old 23-day record was set in 1971 by cosmonauts aboard the very first space station, the Soviet station Salyut 1.)

The first Skylab crew spent a good deal of their time repairing the outpost. Skylab had suffered serious damage during its launch, losing both its micrometeoroid sun shield and one of its solar panels. The astronauts have therefore installed a sunshade-like sunshade in the station's scientific airlock to prevent it from overheating. They also made several releases in space to make other fixes.

The second crewed mission was launched in July 1973 and lasted 59 days. The third took off in November and landed in February 1974, accumulating 84 days in orbit.

And that was it. No more crews have visited Skylab and the station's orbit has progressively deteriorated over the next few years, bringing it closer to a fiery death in the future. 39, Earth's atmosphere. NASA has considered ways to reinforce Skylab's orbit using gear launched aboard the space shuttle, but the winged orbiter did not go online until 1981. And Skylab Could not stay in place as long.

Related: Skylab: how NASA's first space station worked (infographic)

The ground controllers did their best to get the station down 85 tonnes (77 metric tons) over the Indian Ocean, where its exploded parts could not hurt anyone.

"In spite of these efforts, debris dispersal has spread from the southeast of the Indian Ocean to a sparsely populated part of Western Australia," said Roger Launius, chief historian from NASA from 1990 to 2002, wrote in a blog post 2013.

"In fact, while NASA was taking enough precautions to ensure that no one was injured, its leaders had learned that the agency could never allow a situation in which large pieces of orbital debris would have a chance to be injured. to reach the surface of the Earth, "he added.

Still, the Skylab program has been a success overall, NASA officials said. Skylab has shown that astronauts can live and work in space for long periods of time, paving the way for the International Space Station (ISS), which has been home to rotating teams since November 2000. ISS astronauts typically conduct Six months stay, although NASA's Scott Kelly Cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko stayed on the station for 11 months from March 2015 to March 2016.

Skylab's scientific contributions have also been substantial, NASA officials said.

"The three expeditions have produced a vast study of the Earth – its crops, weather and environmental changes," NASA officials said. written in 2013. "They also completed a revealing study of the sun, while teams made alloys, developed perfect crystals, and learned to work in space."

And this $ 400 fine? California radio DJ Scott Barley paid for it in 2009 after collecting donations from his listeners.

Mike Wall's book on the search for extraterrestrial life, "Over there"(Grand Central Publishing, 2018, illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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