Chances are you haven’t even heard of Skylab. It is the name given to America’s first manned space station which was launched into orbit on May 14, 1973. A mere 63 seconds after launch, the unmanned rocket developed problems which came within moments of catastrophe, and arguably almost ended the space program. A protective micrometeoroid shield tore away from the rocket, taking one of the main solar panel arrays with it and jamming the other main solar panel array so that it could not deploy. This deprived Skylab of most of its electrical power, and also removed protection from intense solar heating, threatening to make it unusable. Footage has been located that may show either the anomaly as it occurred, or at the very least, the immediate aftermath, in which the rocket plume can clearly be seen behaving abnormally.
With an admirable display of innovation, the first crew was able to save Skylab by deploying a replacement heat shade and freeing the jammed solar panels, which was the first time a major repair was performed in space. But what exactly did it bring to humanity? In Searching for Skylab we hear from the astronauts themselves as they explain the amazing amount of hard work that went into making the missions a resounding success, and in doing so they attempt to explain how much influence it had in advancing human knowledge, along with several immediate, and not-so immediate benefits. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Skylab is that, in the immediate aftermath and hype of exploring our nearest celestial neighbor the moon, humanity ultimately found itself looking homeward, towards the earth. The astronauts aboard the space station shared the immense beauty of our home planet via television and film in startling clarity.
The ex-crewmates recount their adventures, the drama, danger, anxiety and rescue. Ex-ground-crew tell of the immense logistical difficulties in tracking a spacecraft during the alltoo-brief passes overhead. This is enhanced with archival footage which in many cases has rarely been seen before. Indeed, footage showing Mission Control during the spaceflight of Skylab, act like a window into 1973. One can’t help but feel as “they are there”. Trying to address exactly what it has brought to humanity, though, is no easy task. While space aficionados will argue that any space travel is beneficial to human-kind, the average Joe doesn’t care. They want to know what advantage Skylab has brought in the form of something they can hold in their hand. This film relies on the people directly involved in the
project to convince the audience how much of a triumph Skylab was to their everyday lives.
The legacy of Skylab continues on to this day. The data collected over 40 years ago was so comprehensive that it is still forms the backbone of mission development for the ISS. It is high time the story of this fine vehicle, Skylab, gets told to a new audience.