Space Programs

Early Space Stations

How did the Skylab program end?

In all, three crews lived on Skylab from 1973 to 1974. They stayed aboard for twenty-eight, fifty-nine, and eighty-four days respectively, and conducted a great deal of scientific research, especially solar studies and biomedical studies of the effects of weightlessness on animal and plant life.

After the third crew left, the station was placed in a parking orbit and expected to last there for at least eight years. Regrettably, unexpectedly high atmospheric drag pulled the spacecraft into a lower orbit much more quickly than originally calculated. A plan was made for a space shuttle to dock with Skylab in 1979 and ferry the station to a higher orbit; but the shuttle program experienced years of delays and was not ready to launch until 1981. Another plan was made to send an unmanned spacecraft to save Skylab, but it was not funded by the U.S. government. On July 11, 1979, Skylab fell back to Earth, scattering fragments from the middle of the Indian Ocean all the way to Australia.


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