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Left: The STS-9 crew patch. Middle: Official photo of the STS-9 crew of Owen K. Garriott, seated left, Brewster H. Shaw, John W. Young, and Robert A.R. Parker; Byron K. Lichtenberg, standing left, and Ulf Merbold of West Germany representing the European Space Agency. Right: The payload patch for Spacelab 1.
In August 1973, NASA and the European Space Research Organization, the forerunner of today’s ESA, agreed on a cooperative plan to build a reusable laboratory called Spacelab to fly in the space shuttle’s cargo bay. In exchange for ESA building the pressurized modules and unpressurized pallets, NASA provided flight opportunities for European astronauts. In December 1977, ESA named physicist Merbold of the Max Planck Institute in West Germany, physicist Wubbo Ockels of The Netherlands, and astrophysicist Claude Nicollier of Switzerland as payload specialist candidates for the first Spacelab mission. In September 1982, ESA selected Merbold as the prime crew member to fly the mission and Ockels as his backup. Nicollier had in the meantime joined NASA’s astronaut class of 1980 as a mission specialist candidate. In 1978, NASA selected biomedical engineer Lichtenberg of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as its payload specialist with physicist Michael L. Lampton of CalTech as his backup. In April 1982, NASA assigned the orbiter crew of Young, Shaw, Garriott, and Parker. As commander of STS-9, Young made a record-breaking sixth flight into space. The mission’s pilot Shaw, an astronaut from the 1978 class, made his first trip into space. The two mission specialists had a long history with NASA – Garriott, selected as an astronaut in 1965, completed a 59-day stay aboard the Skylab space station in 1973, and Parker, selected in 1967, made his first spaceflight after a 16-year wait. Although the crew included only two veterans, it had the most previous spaceflight experience of any crew up to that time – 84 days between Young’s and Garriott’s earlier missions.
Left: Arrival of the Spacelab 1 long module at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Middle: Workers place the Spacelab module and pallet into Columbia’s payload bay in KSC’s Orbiter Processing Facility. Right: The Spacelab pallet, top, pressurized long module, and tunnel in Columbia’s payload bay.
The pressurized module for the first Spacelab mission arrived at KSC on Dec. 11, 1981, from its manufacturing facility in Bremen, West Germany. Additional components arrived throughout 1982 as workers in KSC’s Operations and Checkout Building integrated the payload racks into the module. The ninth space shuttle mission saw the return of the orbiter Columbia to space, having flown the first five flights of the program. Since it arrived back at KSC after STS-5 on Nov. 22, 1982, engineers in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) modified Columbia to prepare it for the first Spacelab mission. The completed payload, including the pressurized module, the external pallet, and the transfer tunnel, rolled over to the OPF, where workers installed it into Columbia’s payload bay on Aug. 16, 1983.
Left: In the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, workers lift space shuttle Columbia to mate it with its external tank (ET) and solid rocket boosters (SRBs) for the first time. Middle: Space shuttle Columbia’s first trip from the VAB to Launch Pad 39A. Right: In the VAB, workers have disassembled the stack and prepare to reposition the ET with its SRBs.
Rollover of Columbia to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) took place on Sept. 24, where workers mated it with an external tank (ET) and two solid rocket boosters (SRBs). Following integrated testing, the stack rolled out to Launch Pad 39A four days later for a planned Oct. 29 liftoff. However, on Oct. 14, managers called off that initial launch attempt after discovering that the engine nozzle of the left hand SRB contained the same material that nearly caused a burn through during STS-8. The replacement of the nozzle required a rollback to the VAB. Taking place on Oct. 17, it marked the first rollback of a flight vehicle in the shuttle’s history. Workers in the VAB demated the vehicle and destacked the left hand SRB to replace its nozzle. Columbia temporarily returned to the OPF on Oct. 19, where workers replaced its fuel cells using three borrowed from space shuttle Discovery and also replaced its waste collection system. Columbia returned to the VAB on Nov. 3 for remating with its ET and SRBs and rolled back out to the launch pad on Nov. 8.
Left: The STS-9 crew during their preflight press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Middle: On launch day at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-9 astronauts leave crew quarters to board the Astrovan for the ride to Launch Pad 39A. Right: In the VIP stands to watch the STS-9 launch, Steven Spielberg, left, and George Lucas.
Liftoff of space shuttle Columbia on STS-9 carrying the first Spacelab science module.
Ground track of STS-9’s orbit, inclined 57 degrees to the equator, passing over 80 percent of the world’s land masses.
On Nov. 28, 1983, Columbia thundered off KSC’s Launch Pad 39A to begin the STS-9 mission. The shuttle entered an orbit inclined 57 degrees to the equator, the highest inclination U.S. spaceflight at the time, allowing the astronauts to observe about 80 percent of the Earth’s landmasses. Mounted inside Columbia’s payload bay, the first Spacelab 18-foot long module provided a shirt-sleeve environment for the astronauts to conduct scientific experiments in a variety of disciplines. During the Spacelab 1 mission, the STS-9 crew carried out 72 experiments in atmospheric and plasma physics, astronomy, solar physics, materials sciences, technology, astrobiology, and Earth observations. For the first time in spaceflight history, the crew divided into two teams working opposite 12-hour shifts, allowing science to be conducted 24 hours a day. The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, launched the previous April during the STS-6 mission, and now fully operational, enabled transmission of television and significant amounts of science data to the Payload Operations Control Center, located in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Left: View of the Spacelab module in the shuttle’s payload bay. Middle: Several STS-9 crew members struggle to open the hatch to the transfer tunnel. Right: Owen K. Garriott, left, Ulf Merbold, and Byron K. Lichtenberg enter the Spacelab for the first time to begin activating the module.
Upon reaching orbit, the crew opened the payload bay doors and deployed the shuttle’s radiators. Shortly after, following a few tense minutes during which the astronauts struggled with a balky hatch, they opened it, translated down the transfer tunnel, and entered Spacelab for the first time. Garriott, Lichtenberg, and Merbold activated the module and turned on the first experiments. For the next nine days, the Red Team of Young, Parker, and Merbold, and the Blue Team of Shaw, Garriott, and Lichtenberg performed flawlessly to carry out the experiments. Young and Shaw managed the shuttle’s systems while the mission and payload specialists conducted the bulk of the research. With ample consumables available, Mission Control granted them an extra day in space to complete additional science. One afternoon, the astronauts chatted with U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan in the White House and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, attending the European Community Summit in Athens, Greece. The two leaders praised the astronauts for their scientific work and the cooperation between the two countries that enabled the flight to take place.
Left: Robert A.R. Parker, left, Byron K. Lichtenberg, Owen K. Garriott, and Ulf Merbold at work inside the Spacelab module. Middle: Garriott preparing to draw a blood sample from Lichtenberg for one of the life sciences experiments. Right: Garriott, front, and Lichtenberg at work in the Spacelab module.
Left: The rotating dome experiment to study visual vestibular interactions. Middle: Owen K. Garriott prepares to place blood samples in a passive freezer. Right: Inflight photograph of the STS-9 crew.
A selection of the STS-9 crew Earth observation photographs. Left: The Manicougan impact crater in Quebec, Canada, with the shuttle’s tail visible at upper right. Middle: Hong Kong. Right: Cape Campbell, New Zealand.
On Dec. 8, their last day in space, the crew finished the experiments, closed up the Spacelab module, and strapped themselves into their seats to prepare for their return to Earth. Five hours before the scheduled landing, during thruster firings one of Columbia’s five General Purpose Computers (GPC) failed, followed six minutes later by a second GPC. Mission Control decided to delay the landing until the crew could fix the problem. Young and Shaw brought the second GPC back up but had no luck with the first. Meanwhile, one of Columbia’s Inertial Measurement Units, used for navigation, failed. Finally, after eight hours of troubleshooting, the astronauts fired the shuttle’s Orbital Maneuvering System engines to begin the descent from orbit. Young piloted Columbia to a smooth landing on a lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert, completing 166 orbits around the Earth in 10 days, 6 hours, and 47 minutes, at the time the longest shuttle flight. Shortly before landing, a hydrazine leak caused two of the orbiter’s three Auxiliary Power Units (APU) to catch fire. The fire burned itself out, causing damage in the APU compartment but otherwise not affecting the landing. The astronauts safely exited the spacecraft without incident. On Dec. 14, NASA ferried Columbia back to KSC to remove the Spacelab module from the payload bay. In January 1984, Columbia returned to its manufacturer, Rockwell International in Palmdale, California, where workers spent the next two years refurbishing NASA’s first orbiter before its next mission, STS-61C, in January 1986.
Left: John W. Young in the shuttle commander’s seat prior to entry and landing. Middle: Space shuttle Columbia lands at Edward Air Force Base in California to end the STS-9 mission. Right: The six STS-9 crew members descend the stairs from the orbiter after their successful 10-day scientific mission.
Left: Workers at Edwards Air Force Base in California safe space shuttle Columbia after its return from space. Middle: Atop a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, Columbia begins its cross country journey to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Right: The STS-9 crew during their postflight press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The journal Science published preliminary results from Spacelab 1 in their July 13, 1984, issue. The two Spacelab modules flew a total of 16 times, the last one during the STS-90 Neurolab mission in April 1998. The module that flew on STS-9 and eight other missions is displayed at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, while the other module resides at the Airbus Defence and Space plant in Bremen, Germany, not on public display.
The Spacelab long module that flew on STS-9 and eight other missions on display at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
Enjoy the crew narrate a video about the STS-9 mission. Read Shaw’s, Garriott’s, and Parker’s recollections of the STS-9 mission in their oral histories with the JSC History Office.
Last Updated Nov 28, 2023 Related Terms
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NASA’s Fermi Mission Nets 300 Gamma-Ray Pulsars … and Counting
A new catalog produced by a French-led international team of astronomers shows that NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has discovered 294 gamma-ray-emitting pulsars, while another 34 suspects await confirmation. This is 27 times the number known before the mission launched in 2008.
This visualization shows 294 gamma-ray pulsars, first plotted on an image of the entire starry sky as seen from Earth and then transitioning to a view from above our galaxy. The symbols show different types of pulsars. Young pulsars blink in real time except for the Crab, which pulses slower than in real time because its rate is only slightly lower than the video’s frame rate. Millisecond pulsars remain steady, pulsing too quickly to see. The Crab, Vela, and Geminga were among the 11 gamma-ray pulsars known before Fermi launched. Other notable objects are also highlighted. Distances are shown in light-years (abbreviated ly). Download high-resolution video and images from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center “Pulsars touch on a wide range of astrophysics research, from cosmic rays and stellar evolution to the search for gravitational waves and dark matter,” said study coordinator David Smith, research director at the Bordeaux Astrophysics Laboratory in Gironde, France, which is part of CNRS (the French National Center for Scientific Research). “This new catalog compiles full information on all known gamma-ray pulsars in an effort to promote new avenues of exploration.”
The catalog was published on Monday, Nov. 27, in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement.
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Narrow beams of energy emerge from hot spots on the surface of a neutron star in this artist’s concept. When one of these beams sweeps past Earth, astronomers detect a pulse of light. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab Pulsars are a type of neutron star, the city-sized leftover of a massive sun that has exploded as a supernova. Neutron stars, containing more mass than our Sun in a ball less than 17 miles wide, represent the densest matter astronomers can study directly. They possess strong magnetic fields, produce streams of energetic particles, and spin quickly – 716 times a second for the fastest known. Pulsars, in addition, emit narrow beams of energy that swing lighthouse-like through space as the objects rotate. When one of these beams sweeps past Earth, astronomers detect a pulse of emission.
The new catalog represents the work of 170 scientists across the globe. A dozen radio telescopes carry out regular monitoring of thousands of pulsars, and radio astronomers search for new pulsars within gamma-ray sources discovered by Fermi. Other researchers have teased out gamma-ray pulsars that have no radio counterparts through millions of hours of computer calculation, a process called a blind search.
More than 15 years after its launch, Fermi remains an incredible discovery machine, and pulsars and their neutron star kin are leading the way.
Fermi Project Scientist
Of the 3,400 pulsars known, most of them observed via radio waves and located within our Milky Way galaxy, only about 10% also pulse in gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light. Visible light has energies between 2 and 3 electron volts. Fermi’s Large Area Telescope can detect gamma rays with billions of times this energy, and other facilities have observed emission thousands of times greater still from the nearby Vela pulsar, the brightest persistent source in the sky for Fermi.
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This movie shows the Vela pulsar in gamma rays detected by the Large Area Telescope aboard NASA’s Fermi observatory. A single pulsar cycle is repeated. Bluer colors indicate gamma rays with higher energies. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration The Vela pulsar and its famous sibling in the Crab Nebula are young, solitary objects, formed about 11,000 and 970 years ago, respectively. Their emissions arise as their magnetic fields spin through space, but this also gradually slows their rotation. The younger Crab pulsar spins nearly 30 times a second, while Vela clocks in about a third as fast.
The Old and the Restless
Paradoxically, though, pulsars that are thousands of times older spin much faster. One example of these so-called millisecond pulsars (MSPs) is J1824-2452A. It whirls around 328 times a second and, with an age of about 30 million years, ranks among the youngest MSPs known.
Thanks to a great combination of gamma-ray brightness and smooth spin slowdown, the MSP J1231-1411 is an ideal “timer” for use in gravitational wave searches. By monitoring a collection of stable MSPs, astronomers hope to link timing changes to passing low-frequency gravitational waves – ripples in space-time – that cannot be detected by current gravitational observatories. It was discovered in one of the first radio searches targeting Fermi gamma-ray sources not associated with any known counterpart at other wavelengths, a technique that turned out to be exceptionally successful.
“Before Fermi, we didn’t know if MSPs would be visible at high energies, but it turns out they mostly radiate in gamma rays and now make up fully half of our catalog,” said co-author Lucas Guillemot, an associate astronomer at the Laboratory of Physics and Chemistry of the Environment and Space and the University of Orleans, France.
Along Come the Spiders
The presence of MSPs in binary systems offers a clue to understanding the age-spin paradox. Left to itself, a pulsar’s emissions slow it down, and with slower spin its emissions dim. But if closely paired with a normal star, the pulsar can pull a stream of matter from its companion that, over time, can spin up the pulsar.
“Spider” systems offer a glimpse of what happens next. They’re classified as redbacks or black widows – named for spiders known for consuming their mates. Black widows have light companions (less than about 5% of the Sun’s mass), while redbacks have heavier partners. As the pulsar spins up, its emissions and particle outflows become so invigorated that – through processes still poorly understood – it heats and slowly evaporates its companion. The most energetic spiders may fully evaporate their partners, leaving only an isolated MSP behind.
J1555-2908 is a black widow with a surprise – its gravitational web may have ensnared a passing planet. An analysis of 12 years of Fermi data reveals long-term spin variations much larger than those seen in other MSPs. “We think a model incorporating the planet as a third body in a wide orbit around the pulsar and its companion describes the changes a little better than other explanations, but we need a few more years of Fermi observations to confirm it,” said co-author Colin Clark, a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover, Germany.
Other curious binaries include the so-called transitional pulsars, such as J1023+0038, the first identified. An erratic stream of gas flowing from the companion to the neutron star may surge, suddenly forming a disk around the pulsar that can persist for years. The disk shines brightly in optical light, X-rays, and gamma rays, but pulses become undetectable. When the disk again vanishes, so does the high-energy light and the pulses return.
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This artist’s concept illustrates a possible model for the transitional pulsar J1023. When astronomers can detect pulses in radio (green), the pulsar’s energetic outflow holds back its companion’s gas stream. Sometimes the stream surges, creating a bright disk around the pulsar that can persist for years. The disk shines brightly in X-rays, and gas reaching the neutron star produces jets that emit gamma rays (magenta), obscuring the pulses until the disk eventually dissipates. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Some pulsars don’t require a partner to switch things up. J2021+4026, a young, isolated pulsar located about 4,900 light-years away, underwent a puzzling “mode change” in 2011, dimming its gamma rays over about a week and then, years later, slowly returning to its original brightness. Similar behavior had been seen in some radio pulsars, but this was a first in gamma rays. Astronomers suspect the event may have been triggered by crustal cracks that temporarily changed the pulsar‘s magnetic field.
Farther afield, Fermi discovered the first gamma-ray pulsar in another galaxy, the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud, in 2015. And in 2021, astronomers announced the discovery of a giant gamma-ray flare from a different type of neutron star (called a magnetar) located in the Sculptor galaxy, about 11.4 million light-years away.
“More than 15 years after its launch, Fermi remains an incredible discovery machine, and pulsars and their neutron star kin are leading the way,” said Elizabeth Hays, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Explore the Fermi gamma-ray pulsar catalog on WorldWide Telescope
Max Planck Institute release
By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
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Humans in Space
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The third and final crewed mission to the Skylab space station, Skylab 4, got underway on Nov. 16, 1973, with a thunderous launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Docking eight hours later, astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue began a planned 56-day mission that program managers extended to a record-breaking 84 days. During their first month, as they adjusted to weightlessness and their new surroundings, they completed the first of four spacewalks. They began an extensive science program, investigating the effects of long-duration spaceflight on human physiology, examining the Sun, conducting observations of the Earth, as well as technology and student-led experiments. They began their systematic observations of recently discovered Comet Kohoutek as it approached the Sun.
Left: Crew patch of the third and final crewed mission to Skylab. Middle: Official photo of the Skylab 4 crew of Gerald P. Carr, left, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue. Right: The Skylab 4 backup crew of Vance D. Brand, left, William B. Lenoir, and Don L. Lind.
In January 1972, NASA announced the astronauts it had selected for the Skylab program. For Skylab 4, the third crewed mission and at the time planned to last 56 days, NASA named Carr as commander, Gibson as science pilot, and Pogue as pilot to serve as the prime crew, the first all-rookie prime crew since Gemini VIII in 1966. For the backup crew, NASA designated Vance D. Brand, William B. Lenoir, and Don L. Lind, who also served as the backup crew for Skylab 3. Brand and Lind would serve as the two-person crew for a possible rescue mission.
Left: The S-IB first stage for the Skylab 4 mission’s SA-208 Saturn IB rocket arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Middle: The two S-IVB second stages for the Skylab 4 SA-208 rocket, right, and the SA-209 Skylab rescue rocket sit side by side in the VAB. Right: Workers in the VAB stack the second stage onto the first stage for the Skylab 4 Saturn IB.
Preparations at KSC for the Skylab 4 mission began on Nov. 4, 1971, with the arrival of the S-IVB second stage of the SA-208 Saturn IB rocket. Workers placed it in long-term storage in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The rocket’s S-IB first stage arrived on June 20, 1973. Workers in the VAB mounted it on Mobile Launcher 1 on July 31, adding the second stage later that same day.
Left: The arrival of the Skylab 4 Command Module (CM), front, and Service Module, partly hidden at left, in the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Middle left: The Skylab 4 astronauts conduct an altitude test aboard their CM in the MSOB. Middle right: Rollout of the Skylab 4 vehicle from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B. Right: Workers at Launch Pad 39B replace the eight stabilization fins on the Saturn IB rocket’s first stage.
Meanwhile, Command and Service Module-118 (CSM-118) for the mission arrived in KSC’s Manned Spacecraft and Operations Building (MSOB) on Feb. 10, 1973, where engineers placed it inside a vacuum chamber. The prime and backup crews conducted altitude tests of the CSM in early August. With the thruster problems aboard the Skylab 3 spacecraft docked to the space station, managers accelerated the processing flow for the Skylab 4 vehicle to enable a launch as early as Sept. 9 in case they had to implement a rescue mission. Workers mated CSM-118 to the Saturn rocket on Aug. 10 and rolled the stack to Launch Pad 39B four days later. By this time, the need for a rescue had diminished and the processing flow readjusted to enable a launch on need within nine days until the Skylab 3 splashdown on Sept. 25. Normal processing then resumed for a planned Nov. 9 launch, later adjusted to Nov. 11. Carr, Gibson, and Pogue entered their preflight health stabilization plan quarantine on Oct. 20. On Nov. 6, workers found hairline cracks in the mounting brackets of the Saturn IB’s stabilizing fins, requiring a slip of the launch date to Nov. 16 to complete their replacement at the pad. The Skylab 4 countdown began on Nov. 14, the day after the astronauts arrived at KSC.
Left: Skylab 4 astronauts William R. Pogue, left, Edward G. Gibson, and Gerald P. Carr training in the Skylab training mockup. Middle: Gibson, left, Carr, and Pogue display a model of the Skylab space station at the conclusion of their preflight press conference. Right: Gibson, left, Carr, and Pogue pose in front of a T-38 Talon aircraft at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston prior to their departure for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch.
Left: Skylab 4 astronauts William R. Pogue, left, Edward G. Gibson, and Gerald P. Carr enjoy the traditional prelaunch breakfast. Middle: Carr, front, Gibson, and Pogue test the pressure integrity of their spacesuits before launch. Right: Carr, front, Gibson, and Pogue exit crew quarters to board the transfer van for the ride to Launch Pad 39B.
Liftoff of Skylab 4!
The third and final mission to the Skylab space station got underway on Nov. 16, 1973, with a thunderous liftoff from KSC’s Launch Pad 39B. Although officially planned as a 56-day mission for several years, mission managers had confidence of an extension to 84 days and planned accordingly, with the astronauts bringing additional food, supplies, and science experiments.
Left: Skylab during the rendezvous and docking. Right: Left by the Skylab 3 crew before their departure from the station, three astronaut manikins wear the Skylab 4 crew’s flight overalls.
Eight hours after launch, and following two unsuccessful attempts, Carr hard docked the spacecraft to the space station. Pogue, who on Earth appeared resistant to all forms of motion sickness, developed a case of space motion sickness during the crew’s first evening, requiring several days to fully recover. This incident along with an overly packed timeline caused the astronauts to fall behind in accomplishing their tasks as they adjusted to weightlessness and learned their way around the large space station. The astronauts spent their first night in space aboard the Command Module, opening the hatch the next morning to begin reactivating Skylab. To their surprise, the station appeared to already have three occupants. As a joke, before they left the station in September, the Skylab 3 crew stuffed their successors’ flight suits with used clothing and left them in strategic places throughout the workshop. Carr, Gibson, and Pogue began settling into the routine aboard Skylab, preparing meals, exercising, and starting the large number of experiments. They continued the science program begun by the previous two Skylab crews, including biomedical investigations on the effects of long-duration space flight on the human body, Earth observations using the Earth Resources Experiment Package (EREP), and solar observations with instruments mounted on the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM). With the prediction earlier in the year that newly discovered Comet Kohoutek would make its closest approach to the Sun in late December, scientists added cometary observations to the crew’s already busy schedule. The astronauts brought a Far Ultraviolet Electronographic Camera, the backup to the instrument deployed on the Moon during Apollo 16, to Skylab especially for observations of the comet, and used it for cometary photography during two spacewalks added to the mission.
Left: Edward G. Gibson, left, William R. Pogue, and Gerald P. Carr prepare a meal in the Skylab wardroom. Middle: Carr uses the Thornton treadmill to exercise. Right: Carr “weighs” himself in weightlessness using the body mass measurement device.
One of the lessons learned from the first two Skylab missions indicated that the onboard bicycle ergometer alone did not provide enough exercise to maintain leg and back muscle mass and strength. To remedy this problem, physician and Skylab support astronaut Dr. William E. Thornton designed a makeshift treadmill that the third crew brought with them to the station. The treadmill device consisted of a teflon-coated aluminum plate bolted to the floor of the workshop. Bungee cords attached to the floor and to the ergometer harness supplied the downward force for the back and leg muscles with the astronauts sliding over the teflon-coated plate while walking or jogging in stocking feet. Because the exercise provided quite a strenuous workout, the crew dubbed it “Thornton’s revenge.” They also increased the overall amount of time they spent exercising.
Left: William R. Pogue replaces film in the Apollo Telescope Mount during the mission’s first spacewalk. Middle: Gerald P. Carr flies the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit. Right: Overall view showing the large volume of the Skylab Orbital Workshop.
In addition to the heavy science experiment load, the astronauts spent the first week in orbit preparing for the first spacewalk of the mission. On Nov. 22, their seventh day in space and also Thanksgiving Day, Gibson and Pogue suited up and stepped outside the space station with Gibson exclaiming, “Boy, if this isn’t the great outdoors.” During this six-hour 33-minute spacewalk, they replaced film canisters in the ATM and deployed an experiment package on the ATM truss. They took photographs with a camera that had originally been intended for the airlock now blocked by the sunshade that the first crew deployed in May to help cool the station. Gibson and Pogue accomplished all the tasks planned for this first spacewalk. Back inside the station, the astronauts settled in for the first Thanksgiving meal in space. For their dinner, Carr selected prime rib, Gibson went with traditional turkey, and Pogue chose chicken.
Left: The S-IB first stage for Saturn-IB SA-209, the Skylab 4 rescue mission, arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Middle left: The S-IVB second stage for SA-209 inside the VAB. Middle right: Workers stack the Command and Service Module CSM-119, the Skylab 4 rescue spacecraft, atop SA-209. Right: The Skylab 4 rescue vehicle at Launch Pad 39B.
The inclusion of two docking ports on the Skylab space station enabled an in-flight rescue capability for the first time in human spaceflight history. In case a failure of the docked CSM stranded the onboard three-person crew, a two-person crew would launch in a second Apollo spacecraft specially configured with two extra couches to return all five astronauts. For the first two Skylab missions, the rocket and spacecraft for the subsequent mission served as the potential rescue vehicle. The failure of two Service Module thruster groups during Skylab 3 nearly required the rescue capability. Since Skylab 4 was the final mission, NASA procured an additional Saturn IB rocket, SA-209, and Apollo spacecraft, CSM-119, for the rescue role. The spacecraft arrived at KSC on May 2, 1973, and workers placed it in storage in the MSOB. In September, the backup crew of Brand, Lenoir, and Lind completed altitude chamber tests with the CSM, although only Brand and Lenoir would fly any the rescue mission. The S-IVB second stage for Saturn IB SA-209 arrived at KSC on Jan. 12, 1972, and workers placed it in storage in the VAB. The S-IB first stage arrived on Aug. 20, 1973. Because only one Mobile Launcher included the milkstool to launch a Saturn IB, assembly of the rescue vehicle had to await its return from the launch pad the day after the Skylab 4 liftoff. Assembly of the rocket in the VAB began on Nov. 26, and workers topped the rocket off with the spacecraft four days later. The stacked vehicle rolled out to Launch Pad 39B on Dec. 3 where engineers prepared the vehicle so that after Dec. 20, it could support a launch within nine days, should the need arise. The vehicle remained at the pad until Feb. 14, 1974, six days after the Skylab 4 splashdown.
Left: Gerald P. Carr monitors Edward G. Gibson during a lower body negative pressure test of his cardiovascular system. Middle: Gibson works out on the bicycle ergometer during a test of his cardiopulmonary function. Right: Gibson in the rotating chair to test his vestibular system.
To add to their packed timeline, one of the station’s three control moment gyros (CMGs) failed the day after the first spacewalk. Skylab used CMGs to control the station’s attitude without expending precious attitude control gas, a non-renewable resource heavily depleted early in the station’s life. Engineers on the ground worked out a plan to control the station’s attitude using only the two working CMGs, thereby enabling completion of the remaining science, especially the Earth resource passes and comet Kohoutek observations. Pogue made the first measurements of Comet Kohoutek on Nov. 23 from inside the station using a photometric camera brought to Skylab especially to observe the comet. The astronauts practiced flying the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit, a precursor of the Manned Maneuvering Unit used during the space shuttle program to retrieve satellites, inside the large dome of the workshop.
Left: Edward G. Gibson at the controls of the Apollo Telescope Mount. Right: William R. Pogue, left, and Gerald P. Carr at the control panel for the Earth Resources Experiment package inside the Multiple Docking Adapter.
Left: Image of a massive solar flare taken by one of the Apollo Telescope Mount instruments. Middle: Earth Resources Experiment Package photograph of the San Francisco Bay area. Right: Crew handheld photograph of a cyclone in the South Pacific.
On Dec. 13, the mission’s 28th day, program officials assessed the astronauts’ performance and the status of the station and fully expected that they could complete the nominal 56-day mission and most likely the full 84 days. Despite being overworked and often behind the timeline, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue had already accomplished 84 hours of solar observations, 12 Earth resources passes, 80 photographic and visual Earth observations, all of the scheduled medical experiments, as well as numerous other activities such as student experiments, and science demonstrations. The astronaut’s major concern centered around the timelining process that had not given them time to adjust to their new environment and did not take into account their on-orbit daily routine. Despite the crew sending taped verbal messages to the ground asking for help in fixing these issues, the problem persisted. Skylab 4 Lead Flight Director Neil B. Hutchinson later admitted that the ground team learned many lessons about timelining long duration missions during the first few weeks of Skylab 4.
For more insight into the Skylab 4 mission, read Carr’s, Gibson’s, and Pogue’s oral histories with the JSC History Office.
To be continued …
With special thanks to Ed Hengeveld for his expert contributions on Skylab imagery.
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