A Skylab bonus of three unscheduled science demonstrations performed by the sl-ii crew in their spare time has resulted in plans for expansion of this activity by the crew ofsl-iii. The demonstrations, to be filmed by tv, movie and still cameras, will require a degree of inventiveness from the crew and will provide a change of pace for them during the mission. The activities will also provide material for educational applications. In addition, nasa scientists believe that examination of the photographs and video data of these demonstrations will be ofconsiderable assistance in designing even more valuable and complex science experiments onboard the Space Shuttle.
All of these new activities and others added to the mission at the last minute meant that crew training for Skylab ill presented a real challenge. The crew had been working to prepare for one mission and suddenly found itself with little time left to prepare for a greatly expanded one. And its position as last in line made getting adequate and proper training even more difficult. “We didn’t have a chance in the beginning to get much real simulator training because the two crews ahead of us were going to get it all, and all of us Skylab guys had to wait till the Apollo Program was over,” Carr said. “So even Pete Conrad and his crew were only getting catch-as-catch-can training whenever the simulator was available. We were left playing with cardboard and other low-fidelity mockups to try to figure out what to do in flight.”
Pogue agreed: “We were the last crew. The first crew dominated the simulators when they were training. Then obviously the second crew also had to spend a lot of time in the simulators. In addition, the backup crew required increased training when the potential arose of rescuing the second crew if their rcs [thruster] problem worsened. Thus, we were left doing only peripheral stuff. We’d go wherever they weren’t getting trained. Whichever simulator or trainer they weren’t using, we would use, if it wasn’t down for maintenance. Then, of course, as soon as they launched, we finally got three months of relatively intense training.”
Despite being low on the priority list for the simulators, the crew kept busy with training activities. “One of our main tasks was to help put together the training program for all Skylab crewmen, so we worked hot and heavy with people in the training department to help them brainstorm and get that sort of stuff out of the way,” Carr said. “Since we didn’t have any simulators to work with, and we couldn’t do anything else, it was probably an excellent use of our time.
“We each ended up with individual jobs: Ed was the guy in charge of experiments, and particularly the solar physics experiments. He had recently written a textbook called The Quiet Sun and was the solar physics expert in the astronaut corps. Ed really focused heavily in that area. Bill managed a lot of the Skylab fluid systems and other experiments. My main focus was the Skylab navigational, guidance, and related systems. We structured our training so that all of us could operate anything, but if something went wrong, there was always one expert.”
The crew put particular focus on preparing for the Earth observations tasks during their training. Jerry Carr explained: “We did not want to be in the position at a debriefing of having someone ask us about something we saw and being able to say nothing more than ‘Yeah. We saw it. Sure was pretty.’ We went to Ken Kleinknecht and said that we really wanted to be intelligent observers of the Earth when we weren’t doing other things and asked if he could help us. They gave us forty hours of training time and promised to find at least twenty world experts on various Earth phenomena. Each of them was to come to the center to give us two-hour briefings on what’s important, what they wanted to know, and how we were to look for it.
“That turned out to be probably the most exciting and rewarding of all of the experiments that we did (Ed would probably put the atm first by a narrow margin) because it provided the opportunity to ad lib, and ad lib intelligently. The kinds of people we worked with included Lee Silvers, who was an earthquake-fault expert from southern California; John Campbell, who was an expert on ice formation in the northern and southern latitudes; Bob Stevenson, who was an outstanding oceanographer from La Jolla; a desert formation expert; and several meteorologists. These people were programmed into our training, enthusiastically came to the center, and talked about what data we could acquire that would provide them with the best insights into their particular studies of the Earth.
“We thoroughly enjoyed those forty hours of training. They also gave us a lot of extra film, partially to make up for some of the film that got ruined by the high temperatures in the station early on. On balance, we were able to do pretty well with what we had.”
While the first two missions left legacies that would create challenges for the third crew, there were some benefits as well. “We drew a lot of conclusions from what we saw on the first two missions,” Carr said. “I think the most important one was that when the first crew came back after twenty – eight days, they were pretty wobbly, pretty weak. So the second crew and ours decided to bump up the exercise periods. Al Bean’s crew doubled their exercise period from a half hour to an hour a day. Turns out that that didn’t appear to be enough either, so we increased it again to an hour and a half.”
“We were determined that we would stay longer and come back in better condition than the previous crews,” Gibson said, “partially because we learned from their experience on how to best exercise to counter the effects of zero gravity.”
Looking at the results of the second crew’s mission, Carr saw the roots of a potential problem for his flight and took action to prevent it. “We watched the way experiments were being done, and some of our procedures were modified based on what the first two crews had learned,” Carr said. “We noticed that the second crew was really hustling all the time. By the end of their mission their rate of activity was extremely high. We began telling some of the managers that we didn’t think that rate of work was wise for a ninety or an eighty-four-day mission because we weren’t sure that we were going to be able to sustain it. We thought that the workload should be slacked off some and there should be more rest. Everybody agreed to that, and the experiments were slowed and spread out quite a bit.”
It was to be a short-lived respite, however. “Unfortunately, they then added a whole bunch of new experiments, and we allowed ourselves to get trapped into this new situation. All of these experiments that were added at the last minute came with a lot of problems that we didn’t have the time to detect and take into consideration,” Carr said. “So, when we got up there, we found that we were overcommitted just like the first crew and that we were going to have to sustain the high Skylab II work pace for eighty-four days instead of the fifty-nine that they experienced.”
“The first crews really performed well and set pretty high standards for us to live up to,” said Gibson. “But in critiquing their performance, we couldn’t let them get swelled heads. Yes, the troops on Skylab I faced temperatures of 140 degrees and did a great job of making the space station useable. But after all, it was a dry heat!
“The second crew erected a larger sun shade that further lowered the temperatures down into the comfortable range except for one hot spot that formed when the station was in nearly continuous sunlight (technically, high beta angles)—at my sleep compartment! At those times, I just floated my cot into the mda and slept there.”
Finally, launch day drew close. And then it was postponed. Skylab ill’s scheduled 10 November launch date had to be delayed when cracks were found in the fins at the base of their Saturn IB booster—something that could be blamed on the thruster problems of the second Skylab crew. The SL-4 booster had been transported to the launch pad during the summer to serve as a booster for the potential Skylab II rescue mission; it was thought that this additional period of resting on the fins had caused the cracks. After the fins were replaced, the final Skylab crew left the launch pad at one-and – a-half minutes after 10:00 a. m. on 16 November.
“I went to bed early that night knowing full well I wouldn’t sleep worth a hoot,” Jerry Carr said. “Several days earlier we had started trying to shift our circadian clocks to allow us to go to bed at something like six in the evening and then wake up at two or three in the morning. So at about four o’clock in the morning, Elmer Taylor, who was our flight crew systems coordinator, came into my room and said, ‘The bird’s waiting. It’s time to go.’ I had actually fallen asleep, finally, but then I awoke with a start and got up.
“The first thing scheduled was our physical. They took microbiological swabs from many parts of our bodies to find what kind of flora and fauna were living on us. They catalogued their findings as part of a long-term experiment to determine how much microbiological material we would leave on the spacecraft and what we would pick up, if anything, left by the crews ahead of us. It turned out that we did pick up some of the bugs left behind by the Skylab II guys.
“After our physicals, we went into the crew dining room and had breakfast with Deke [Slayton], Al [Shepard], Kenny Kleinknecht, and other managers. It’s interesting that our meals at the crew quarters were always steaks, eggs, and all those good things that are just wonderful for cholesterol. In the subsequent years, my wife and I have totally modified our diet so that now we don’t touch any of these foods mainly because of their high cholesterol and fat content. It’s amazing that dieticians in those days thought that lots of steak and eggs was the best thing in the world for us.
“After the meal, we began suiting up. I put a watch on my ankle, although I was not supposed to be taking anything extra up. But I had this Movado, which was a self-winding watch with one of those little counterweights in it. I was very curious to find out if this self-winding watch would still work in a weightless environment or whether the weightlessness would inhibit the motion of that little counterweight and keep it from winding the watch. Our official watches, Omegas that we wore on our wrists over the pressure suit, were regular hand-wound, plain old mechanical watches. So I put the Movado on my ankle and finished suiting up.
“Launch went off perfectly. It was a beautiful, clear day. I remember when the escape tower was finally kicked off, and it took the shroud with it. The light that came in the cabin was just blinding for a minute. It was incredible. I tell a lot of people that riding on a booster like that is kind of like riding on a train with square wheels. You’ve got lots of noise, lots of vibration. Then sure enough, when you hit that first booster shutdown, staging, and then the next booster kicking off, it’s just exactly what everybody has called it: a train wreck. I thought that was very apt.
“We got into orbit without any problems. Everything worked just fine. Eight minutes and twenty-eight seconds later we were on orbit and things were beginning to quiet down. Looking out the window for the first time, I was totally disoriented. I didn’t recognize a thing. Suddenly, somewhere in the first thirty minutes or so, I saw Italy, and I said to myself, ‘Italy really is shaped like a boot.’ I’ve never forgotten that particular experience.”
Ed Gibson described the experience: “Liftoff is an exciting time, and any crewperson who is not excited doesn’t really understand what’s about to happen.
“On that crisp cool morning of November 16, we rode in the standard NASA van out to the launch gantry, a thirty-seven-story building, and our Saturn IB booster resting on a structure that brought the Command Module hatch to the same level as if it were on top of a Saturn v booster, a structure that resembled the world’s largest milking stool. As we rode, the big blue eyes of Al Shepard bored into each of us looking for any sign of weakness, any indication that one of these rookies was not ready to go. I looked back with a defiant smile, ‘Not you, Big Al, or anyone else is getting my seat!’
“Then we took an elevator to the top floor of the gantry, walked along a narrow but exposed hallway, and waited to get strapped into the Command Module. Since I sat in the center seat under the hatch, I was the last one in, which gave me a chance to just stand outside and gaze at the vehicle. For most of the preflight time we were busy and didn’t have time to reflect. But then I had about twenty minutes where I could just stand back and drink it all in.
“It was dark, but the booster was brightly illuminated by search lights on the ground. Because it had just been fueled, it was creaking, popping, and groaning from the weight and frigid temperatures of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, which caused continuous shrinking and readjustments of the metal. All of the electrical systems were up, gases were venting, and lights were blinking unlike what we had ever seen before. No longer just passive metal, the vehicle had taken on a life of its own—it was alive!
“I found it difficult to get the wide grin off my face as I was strapped in. It was an exhilarating few moments of anticipation that to this day I highly value and feel fortunate that I had, an experience similarly noted by the previous two science pilots on their missions.
“As we waited for launch, we learned who was really in charge, who would have the last word. A few days before launch they discovered cracks in the fins on our booster. Because we were eager to go and not happy with the five-day delay required to replace the cracked fins, we started to refer to the booster as old Humpty Dumpty. Well, somehow that got out in the press and of course didn’t sit too well with those good troops who were working around the clock to get the booster ready in time. But, much to their credit they said nothing. . . at least not until twenty minutes before launch when we got a message, ‘Good luck, and God speed, from all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.’
“Finally we heard launch control start counting backwards from ten, then a tremendous sucking sound as propellants got ripped into combustion chambers, a noise Bill later said ‘sounded like they had just simultaneously flushed every toilet in the Astrodome.’ Far below and lasting less than a second, we felt eight engines ignite in a ripple fire, and we crept off the pad. The front of my mind was focused on gauges and abort procedures, even as a little whisper spurted up from the back of my mind, ‘The basement just exploded!’
“The ride on the first stage was noisy and rough, like a Hummer doing eighty miles per hour over moguls. At about one minute into the flight, we went through the speed of sound and also reached the maximum of the aerodynamic forces and turbulence that built up as we rammed through the wall of air resistance ahead of us. The vibration became severe; I felt like a fly glued to a paint shaker. Then it smoothed out a little until staging at two minutes, which jolted us like a head-on crash quickly followed by a sharp impact from the rear.”
Bill Pogue recalled the incredible noise and vibration of the launch: “The noise caused by airflow over the booster had been building all during the first minute of launch. It was so loud that it was difficult to hear the intercom between our suits. Once we were supersonic, all the outside noise ceased because the air noise couldn’t penetrate the shock wave attached to the Command Module. Then we could hear the creaking and groaning of the structure as it responded to abrupt swiveling and gimbaling of the engines. We also heard liquid propellants rushing through feed lines.
“Because of the intense vibration, I had difficulty reading my hardcopy checklist, which I was supposed to use to compare the predicted performance against our actual performance as indicated on the computer display.”
Ed Gibson said, “The second stage reminded me of a long, smooth elevator ride that accelerated ever faster as the mass of the propellants burned away. Eventually we weighed three times our normal weight, which was not bad because our hearts were at the same elevation as our heads so graying out was not even a possibility. But it was hard to lift a hand, and I noticed my cheeks and ears sliding towards the back of my head.
“Then, at a little over eight minutes, the engines cut off— sharply! Immediately, everything floated. Our spacecraft, which they tried so hard to keep clean at the Cape, filled up with small dirt and debris that floated up from its hiding places on the floor. In short order the air conditioning system cleaned it all up.
“Outside I saw the curved horizon and the coast of Florida receding. This was the best simulation yet! I looked back in to study the gauges and threw a few switches as we reconfigured the spacecraft for rendezvous with Skylab.
When I glanced out again, Italy going by and I understood what it’s like to travel at five miles a second. After a presentation when I got back, a highway patrolman stepped forward and presented me with a ticket. Said he’d clocked me at 17,682 mph. . . in a 40.
“After several orbital maneuvers, a distant speck expanded into Skylab. It was missing one wing and a micrometeoroid-thermal shield, and it was covered by two jerry-rigged sunshades. I felt a warm glow—we had arrived at our new home. This was going to be great!”
After docking, the crew was to spend the night in their Command Module before moving into their new home. The delayed entry was prompted by the problems the second crew had encountered with space sickness upon their arrival. Mission planners decided that in order to try to avoid the adaptation problems the second crew had encountered the third crew should spend a night in their Apollo capsule, giving them time to adjust to weightlessness before moving into the open volume of Skylab and getting to work. So after arriving at Skylab, instead of going inside the crew worked late stowing equipment in their Command Module.
“About that time,” Jerry Carr said, “Bill was saying, ‘I’m not really feeling too terribly well,’ So we talked about it, and I said, ‘Well, best thing to do, probably, is to eat. You’ll feel better.’ So we went ahead and ate our dinner. One of Bill’s items was stewed tomatoes. He ate them down, waited for a while, then said, ‘It’s coming back up.’ So he got out his bag and barfed.
“The day before we left jsc, the doctors said, ‘Now, we’re real concerned about this space-sickness thing. We want you to take medications.’ In the medical sensitivity tests they’d done on us, they found which of the antinausea medications were best for each of us and which had the least side effects. The doctors said, ‘Jerry, we want you to take something. In fact, we want all three of you to take something.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m driving this multimillion-dollar vehicle, and I’m not even allowed to drive an automobile or fly an airplane when I take Scop-Dex [one of the medications]. Why do you want me to do it now?’ They said, ‘We don’t want you to get sick.’ I said, ‘I’ll take the sickness rather than the disorientation,’ and decided not to take the medication.
“Well, Bill wanted to be a good patient and said, ‘Okay. I’m not driving, and I’ll be able to manage fine, so I’ll take the Scop-Dex.’ What surprised us was that Bill was the one who got sick. Whenever Bill and I went up in a
Т-38 to do acrobatics, I was usually the one that turned green, not Bill, and he had taken the medication!”
Gibson agreed: “We called Bill ‘Old Iron Ears.’ You could never make him sick on the ground. Put him in a rotating chair, and he’d never get sick. He used to fly for the Thunderbirds, so you figure that if there’s anybody going to get sick, it’d be me, the real novice, or maybe even Jerry, but not Bill, which showed us that we didn’t really understand the problem.”
Bill Pogue said, as his experience proved, “There’s not a direct correlation between who suffers from motion sickness on the ground and who has problems in space. I’ve observed that people who are susceptible to motion sickness, particularly susceptible, on Earth tend to not be in space, and vice versa. Clearly someone like me who went through the full limit of head motions at the highest rpm in the rotating chair at the Pensacola naval facility and could have continued indefinitely is, by definition, highly resistant to motion sickness on the ground. They never could make me sick. But who got sick first on Skylab? I did. It’s sort of an inverse relationship.”
Faced with Pogue’s sickness, the crew discussed what to do about it. One of the biggest things on their mind was the burden they carried for the future. Right then, down on Earth, work was beginning on the Space Shuttle. Right then, also down on Earth, there were those in Congress who were opposed to the program. The success of the Space Shuttle depended on astronauts being able to make that one-shot glider landing. Sick astronauts, the Shuttle’s opponents would argue, would not be able to make that landing. The future, it seemed, was resting on the third crew proving that there wouldn’t be a problem.
And so with the future of spaceflight in mind, they decided what to do about Pogue’s sickness: “With all the pressure they were putting on us not to get sick, Ed and I said, ‘Well, look. Maybe we just won’t say anything,’” Jerry Carr recalled, “In fact we thought it might even be best to toss the vomit down the Trash Airlock and not to report it. That way we wouldn’t get people all fuzzed down on the ground, and we could get the mission off to a smooth start. We knew we had a lot to do. So we said, ‘Okay. That’s what we’ll do. We hope Bill will feel better tomorrow, and we can press on.’
“Well, unfortunately Bill, being the sick one, was also the guy in charge of the communication system, and he had left the switch on to the equipment that was recording all the intercom conversation. So while we slept that night, people on the ground played it back and heard all of our previous conversations. The next morning, Al Shepard came up on the Capcom loop and said something like, ‘You guys have made a mistake here, and I hope you haven’t destroyed the vomitus bag.’ I said, ‘No, we haven’t done anything like that, and I agree with you. It was a dumb decision. We’ll put it in our medical report, weigh it, do all the necessary things, and go from here.
“So they discovered that we were trying to conceal information, which we felt pretty bad about. But that was our motive: we didn’t want to fuzz things up anymore on the ground. It was dumb. Yet we did it, we wish we hadn’t, but we did.”
That mistake behind them, it was time for the third Skylab mission to truly begin. After a night’s sleep, the crew awoke and prepared to move into the space station. “The next morning, Bill wasn’t feeling great but he was feeling better,” Carr said. “Ed and I were both okay. I had a feeling in my stomach that was kind of like a big knot, but I wasn’t sick. Ed just didn’t have any problems at all. We always thought that was kind of a marvel. Ed, the one who had the least flying time, was the nonsick one.”
The crew opened hatch and entered Skylab. Upon moving in, though, the crew found that they were not alone. Three figures, wearing the unmistakable brown Skylab flight suits were waiting for them in the workshop. Before their departure, the Skylab II crew had stuffed the suits and posed them at various work locations on the lower deck. “When we arrived, we found three dummies that had been packed and put there by three previous dummies,” Carr said. “It was quite a surprise to roll down through the tunnel and come across three other people in the spacecraft that we weren’t expecting.”
“Because we were really rushed at the beginning,” Ed Gibson said, “we left the dummies where they were for quite a while. Every time I was down there, I felt them staring at me, inspecting everything I did, but not lifting a hand to help—eerie.
“During those initial days, there was a real adaptation to zero gravity that had to take place. When launched, we were literally thrust into a whole new environment. When I looked in the mirror, a pumpkin looked back, a round red head with bright red eyeballs. No longer countered by gravity, my heart and arteries continued to ram blood up towards my head. It felt like I was lying down back here on Earth with my feet a little over my head. But after a few days, I lost about three pounds ofwater as did Jerry and Bill. Jerry and I then felt pretty good, but Bill continued to suffer.
“After working hard to become efficient, it all started to seem so easy, so effortless—from a physical standpoint. That’s because one of the real problems with the stresses of spaceflight is that there were none. With no gravity to work against, our muscles weakened if we didn’t exercise enough, and our bones slowly lost calcium and also weakened, just like bedridden patients down here.
“But we had learned what exercises to do from the previous crews, and we lengthened our workout durations 50 percent above those of Skylab 11. We wanted to not only walk out of the Command Module at the end of our flight under our own power, we wanted to be in better condition than the previous crew, even though we would be in zero gravity over 40 percent longer. We dedicated ourselves to that goal and continued to aggressively pursue it through strenuous workouts throughout the full duration of the mission. And we succeeded.”
Between the missions on Skylab, ground control had dumped the pressure in the station down to a quarter of a psi. They had then repressurized it to provide pure, clean atmosphere. “I recollect that when I first entered Skylab,” said Pogue, “my first impression was, ‘Boy, it’s cold in here.’ But it felt really good, especially after having the nausea event the day before. Of course I also knew it was going to be big, but after entering, I felt, ‘This really is big!’ Our immediate problem on entry into Skylab was trying to find all the right books and other things that we had to use. We worked till about 10:30 p. m. Houston time that first day just trying to get caught up.”
The enormity of Skylab created a situation never encountered before on a space mission. “Skylab was so large that they actually lost me one morning,” said Gibson. “Skylab had many different compartments, and I was in the Orbital Workshop trying to find some of the old procedures that the previous crew had left. I was buried deep down behind the freezers where they had stowed most of the previous mission data. When Jerry and Bill started looking for me, they just glanced in the workshop and didn’t see a soul. Then they looked outside and said, ‘Hey, the Command Module’s still here. The hatch is not open. Guess he hasn’t left. So then, where is he?’ When I finally floated into view they said, ‘Where the heck have you been?’ So, it was possible to get lost in Skylab.”
Also the use of the same spacecraft by different crews created problems. Items got misplaced or totally lost, making it harder for each successive crew to operate.
“Skylab gave our nation its first experience with long-duration spaceflights in large spacecraft,” said Bill Pogue. “It had an internal volume of 12,500 cubic feet, the volume of a three-bedroom house. The huge forward compartment was twenty-one feet in diameter and over twenty-five feet high. This spacious volume, numerous stowage lockers, and our longer missions led to some problems we had not encountered before. Some were amusing, but others were downright aggravating.
“Floating through the forward hatch of the forward compartment I saw Ed floating a few feet off the grid floor twenty-five feet below and obviously out of reach of any handholds or other structure. I lunged toward him, gave him a shove, and, like two billiard balls, we went flying off in different directions toward the walls where we could grab something. We were both laughing as we went back to work.
“In other instances, the multiplicity of lockers and stowage locations led to frustrating problems and delays. One evening my flight activity message for the next day directed me to recharge the fluid level in a water loop used to cool an electronics package. The job looked simple: get a couple of tools, a flashlight to observe the accumulator, and a long hose that stretched from our water tanks to the work site, and then follow the procedure and restow everything. A piece of cake? Well, not quite.
“The hose wasn’t where it was supposed to be. No problem! I’ll just call ground and get some help, but it would be another twenty minutes before I could call Houston (no relay satellites back in ’73). I started looking in lockers adjacent to the one designated in the procedure and anywhere else that seemed like a logical place to stash it, but it was all to no avail.
“At the next aos, I explained the problem and asked if they could get in touch with Jack Lousma to see if he could remember where he put it after the last use. Jack is a highly disciplined individual, and I was confident he could tell me right where to find it. Jack was busy mowing the lawn at his home in Friendswood a few miles from jsc when he got a call from Mission Control. He wiped the some of his sweat off and said he did remember using it, but if it wasn’t in the designated stowage location, he didn’t have the foggiest notion of where it might be.
“When I learned that Jack couldn’t help, I really felt defeated. However, Capcom had an alternative approach and told me where I could get two shorter hoses to connect together that would span the distance. I did, it worked, and I was able to finish the servicing task, exceeding allotted time by only a factor of five. Incidentally, I never found the hose. We had a stowage book, which was generously cross-referenced, but the book only told us where an item was supposed to be.
“We had other cases of mysterious disappearances. Once a set of calibration weights just vanished, and I spent four hours on my day off looking for them. They never did turn up. A systems checklist apparently floated away and was missing for weeks until Jerry flushed it out from its hiding place with thruster blasts from the maneuvering unit [the Manned Maneuvering Unit prototype tested inside Skylab].
“We lost other items, some of which eventually did turn up. One day when I whirled around to get a camera to take a picture of Hawaii, my eyeglasses flew off. I heard them bouncing around through the experiment compartment as I was taking the picture, but when I went to get them, they were gone. Three days later, Ed found them floating near the ceiling in his sleep compartment.
“Frequently our tableware, usually a knife, would get knocked off the magnetized surface on our food trays and get caught in the airflow, which gently wafted it to the intake screen of the air duct system. It would hover there on the surface until retrieved. The screen became our lost and found department and the first place we looked whenever something was missing.
“Fortunately, today there is technology that can solve the problem. Tags placed on stowed items respond to an interrogation device and reveal their location using rf energy from the locator. It’s just what we need. Let’s hope it’s implemented on [the International Space Station], which ultimately will have more volume and surface area than Skylab. Otherwise, it’s back to the Skylab mode of operation: If it isn’t there, then happy hunting.”
The large volume also provided some interesting opportunities. Ed Gibson said, “One night I could not resist the temptation of Skylab’s large open volume, and I tried sleeping out there floating completely free. It was the ultimate in relaxation—no pressures on your body whatsoever. Once I relaxed, my knees would bend slightly and my arms would float out straight, just like the position I had assumed floating in water many times on Earth. After a few
minutes, I would drift off into a nice. . . relaxing . . . quiet. . . whack!
“I had drifted into a wall that jarred me awake. During all subsequent tries, I remained poised just wondering when, where, and what I would hit again. It just didn’t work. Once I even ended up on the air intake screen in the ows, our lost and found department that usually rounded up considerably smaller objects. Eventually, I discovered that all I had to do was to slip an arm or leg under a bungee cord, and I could drift right off to sleep.
“Sleeping turned out not to be difficult at all without gravity in our sacks, especially early in the flight when we all were exhausted. If we did have trouble turning off because we worked right up to the time we floated into our sacks, reading was usually a good sleep aid. This situation was about the only time we did pull out a book. Time in space was too valuable to use for things we could do on the ground, a sentiment previously stated by Owen on Skylab 11.
“The fifteen sunrises and sunsets a day that we experienced could present a problem when trying to turn off and go to sleep. If you made the mistake of sneaking out of the sack to look out the window, you might see China at high noon, and you then had the difficult task of convincing your mind and body that it really was time to sleep. Also early in the mission if you were clumsy in your sneaking, the guys watching Skylab’s rate gyros on the ground could tell you were up and might just call up and ask you to do ‘just one more thing.’ Later in the mission those ‘one more things’ got ruled out.”
With Pogue still suffering somewhat from space sickness, the crew tried to compensate for the reduced manpower available. “Bill and I decided to change jobs because my job was a little more sedentary than his,” Carr said. “So we swapped checklists and went on. Bill was able to stay quiet and get my work done while I did his. It worked out well. For the next couple of days, when Bill got to feeling a little funny, we would swap jobs. But for the most part, Bill was able to pick up and carry his load without any trouble at all.”
Despite their best effort, however, the crew began to run into what would become the second major problem of their stay on Skylab. “The schedule caught up with us,” Jerry Carr said, “We found that we had allowed ourselves to be scheduled on a daily schedule that was extremely dense. If you missed something, if you made a mistake and had to go back and do it again,
or if you were slow in doing something, you’d end up racing the clock and making more mistakes, screwing up more on an experiment and in general just digging a deeper hole for yourself.
“The schedule was very tight, and we were hustling each and every minute just trying to meet it. That went on for many, many days. It was hard on morale. We were rushed and not able to get things done and experiments completed. We knew, we were just sure, that the experimenters on the ground were grinding their teeth when we had to report, ‘Well, I didn’t get your experiment done because, in my rush, I put the wrong filter in, or I made another error.’ We found that it was almost to the point where you had to schedule time to go the bathroom.
“Then we discovered that we had been scheduled at nearly the same rate that the second crew had achieved at the end of their flight! That explained why we were having so much trouble keeping up. But by the time that was finally recognized, we had achieved a skill level that was adequate to get the work done.
“After the first few days, we realized that eating three meals together was not an efficient use of time. However, we did have dinner together so that we would make sure we were functioning as a cohesive crew, and we each also needed that bit of social contact. It turned out to be a great decision. But after dinner, we’d go right back to the experiments and work till probably nine o’clock at night when it would be time to wind down and go to bed. So at ten o’clock, when we were supposed to be in bed, none of us were ready to go to sleep because we still had things to pick up and put away and other things to do. Our minds were still moving too fast to rest. So, we just weren’t getting the right kind of rest and the right kind of leisure time that would allow us to do things right.
“Finally we began to get a little bit testy. In order to make up time on some of the experiments, to account for some of our fluffs, they had to redouble efforts to tighten the schedule even more. They were juggling our exercise around, and we ended up in several cases having to exercise right after a meal. That’s no time to be exercising, particularly up there where you couldn’t belch because with your food floating around inside you, you were liable to get it back with your belch.
“So we started grousing at them about that, they were working hard trying to keep us up with the schedule, we were giving them a hard time, and they were giving us a hard time. Finally we reached a point in the mission when we just had to take a day off. We had set up a ten-day week with the tenth day as a day off when we could do what we wanted. That was also to be the day when we could take a shower in our makeshift shower. But we gave back our first two or three days off. We said, ‘Go ahead and schedule us, and we’ll do some makeup work.’ Well, we got to the point where our morale was low, we were feeling lousy, and we were really getting drained. So we said ‘Let’s take our day off and get a good day’s rest. It’ll get us back in good shape again, and we can begin to maintain the pace.’
“So we took our day off and did what we wanted to do. We each took a shower. Bill and I did some reading, looking out the window, Earth observations, photography, and other things. Ed worked his own schedule at the atm panel, did some relatively simple experiments, and made some ad lib observations. We had a good day.”
“Though we didn’t understand it at the time,” Ed Gibson said, “we and Mission Control were about to learn some valuable lessons for the future—lessons that had to be learned sometime, and each of us, playing our respective roles, were the unsuspecting students.
“We found it disheartening to be in a situation where you could never catch up; it’s only a question of how far you are behind. We just pushed the buttons as fast as we could and moved on to the next. We were not used to working in that mode, and we didn’t plan on it being that way. An image of my high-school track coach flashed into my mind. With a wide grin he gave me a tip, ‘If you want to win the quarter-mile race, sprint the first hundred yards then just gradually increase your pace.’ ‘Thanks for that bit of wisdom, Coach.’ And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here.
“Early in the mission we used our time at night and other open times to work to catch up. Later on I used these times to perform ad hoc experiments, such as the study of fluids in zero gravity, or when several open hours appeared, I’d go to my favorite spot, the atm control panel, where there was no end to challenges and opportunities to learn and contribute. I remember these open times the most, times when I had a chance to use some creativity; the rush to continually catch up is remembered as just a blur.
“Of course our rushed pace caused mistakes, and I still chuckle about one of them: the televising of an experiment or other event. The switch to turn on the video tape recorder was not controlled by the camera but located in the mda, which was usually far from the subject that we were televising. More than once and always in a rush, I got the subject all nicely prepped, the mike and camera turned on, and started to record, or so I thought. Eventually when I’d realize that the video recorder wasn’t on, I’d drop every thing and streak into the mda muttering some rather creative profanities as I went. All too late I also realized the voice recording was on. ‘Oops, sorry ground.’
“The situation was compounded a bit because people had not yet fully come to grips with the fact that Skylab was a different animal than all the relatively short missions to date. As in ascent, reentry, eva, or hazardous aircraft operations, which preceded spaceflight, it is absolutely essential that nominal and malfunction procedures be spelled out in detail, simulated with fidelity, then followed precisely. It’s a mindset that keeps people alive. However, once the hazardous operations give way to a normal day-today type of operations, like we usually experience here on Earth, it’s time to back off the rigid specification of every action, set goals and objectives, and let the people on the spot use their intelligence to perform to the best of their abilities.
“Because of everybody’s heritage and life-long conditioning, it was a tough mindset to break. As we began to get behind early in our flight, Mission Control, God love ’em, tried to help us as best they could in the only way they knew how: plan to the hilt and specify the procedures in detail. One morning we got a teleprinter message enumerating that day’s activities that stretched from the Command Module down to the Trash Airlock, a distance of sixty-five feet!
“We wanted to be given some latitude in how we applied the brush strokes to the canvas; Mission Control, in their sincere efforts to help us, wanted us to continue painting by the numbers and in areas of ever decreasing size.
“I believe another contributing factor was that we lacked adequate integrated training with the Mission Control team. This team and ourselves never really understood what the other was thinking and planning before launch. Usually integrated training is done as much to train Mission Control as the crew, but they’d been through it all with the first two missions and weren’t eager to revisit that ‘demanding boredom’ more than absolutely necessary. So when they came to us with a set of procedures, we simply said, ‘You’ve been through it all before, and we haven’t. So, we’ll just do it.’ But that didn’t allow us to develop much interaction, communication, and real rapport with the Mission Control team before we reached Skylab. This lack of flight experience and the time crunch led us to just accept almost all suggestions presented to us without question or resistance even when it really would have been appropriate.
“Lastly, the situation was further compounded by lack of open communication after liftoff. You couldn’t just call down and say, ‘Hey, guys, let’s talk this out,’ because everything had to be open for the whole world to hear including the sensationalism-seeking press. So we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll just work through it.’ But that stoic approach didn’t work.”
As with the previous two crews, one form of open conversation was relished by the crew of Skylab ill. “Every third day we had a link to the real world when we each got to talk with our families for ten to fifteen minutes,” Gibson said. “We really looked forward to those talks. Once I was describing the awesome beauty of fires that I could see all along the African coastline, a result of the farmers’ policy of slash burning. I pictured my family hanging with breathless anticipation on every word. Then I heard Julie, my youngest daughter, say, ‘Mommy, can I go out and play?’”
“We each really looked forward to talking with our families,” said Pogue. “However, the news wasn’t what we wanted to hear. Before our mission, I went by the office that handled government employees’ life insurance at jsc and asked if I could pay three months ahead to cover the time I would be on Skylab. I was told that a prepayment wasn’t possible but that the policy would be held effective until I returned. The bureaucracy didn’t coordinate too well within itself (or maybe it knew something that we didn’t) because my wife told me that we had just gotten a letter informing us that my policy had lapsed and was about to be canceled.”
“One day in the midst of all our efforts to get back on schedule,” said Gibson, “we were each working hard and lost in our individual worlds when we heard ‘bang! . . . bang! bang!’ The attitude control system thrusters, for the first time on our flight, had fired to help the Control Moment Gyros counteract the gradient of gravity trying to torque Skylab off target. As we worked inside the huge ows tank, it sounded like someone was outside working over the tank with an equally huge sledgehammer. Now I know what it would be like to live inside a drum.”
While the crew bore the burden of getting back on schedule, they should not have borne the blame for being behind. According to lead flight director
Neil Hutchinson, “If you’ve read anything on the third manned flight, you know ‘we,’ the ground, and I who was right in the middle of it, were on the wrong side of the work scheduling issue. It was clearly a mistake on my and the control center’s part. We expected those three guys to pick right up where the Skylab II guys left off. We did not give them one ounce of zero-G time to get used to it; that is, to do the task a few times and then schedule it tighter. When they got up there, Bill wasn’t feeling very good, which is another thing we’ve now come to accept as well. Yes, it happens, so what. But it was still kind of spooky back then when these guys were getting sick, which was not the fighter pilot image. Oh, what were we going to do?
“Once the guys got up there, I went through the activation, they did a terrific job. Then on the third day we sent a flight plan up that was like the day after the last flight plan of Skylab II, which we didn’t get done when the last flight crew returned. Of course we had practiced some with them on the ground before they launched. We had simulated between the umanned missions with each upcoming crew while we were unmanned for a while. Still it was a serious mistake on the part of the control center because we just expected Bill, Ed, and Jerry to just jump right on the bandwagon and take off.
“On their side of the equation, there was not enough communication early on to let us know that we were getting them in trouble. They were pretty quiet about it. Again it was the fighter-pilot mentality. ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to cry “uncle.” I’m going to just keep trying to get this done. If they keep sending me a flight plan I can’t get done, I’m just going to try again.’
“Of course as we continued to press them, more mistakes begin to be made, more than we had seen with the other crews. And then you began to wonder, ‘Hmmm, what’s going on here?’ I think it might have been even a year or two later that I sat back, looked at that whole thing, and said, ‘You know, we really did something stupid. They didn’t cry “uncle” soon enough even though they had an absolutely valid reason for doing so. The control center had fouled up, and we just kept fouling up until we got them all fouled up too.’
“In the end of course they turned out to be every bit as good as the other guys. They really turned out the stuff. You wouldn’t have believed that they were up there for nearly three months.
“It’s funny, one of those guys, Ed Gibson, has since become a very good friend of mine, and he and I have chatted about this off and on. He knows a lot about what went on there. It was clearly a case of the control center not recognizing that people needed some zero-G adjustment time before they could really be productive. There was just no point in pushing them early on, because they weren’t going to get the job done. We don’t do that these days on the Shuttle. We let them get really organized first.”
Public relations were also impacted by air-ground communications: “In an effort to increase our efficiency,” said Gibson, “we occasionally would have only one of us listening to the voice traffic from the ground and responding to it while the other two of us turned off our radios and worked without interruption. We each signed up for an orbit as the radio-response guy. Well one day we made a mistake and for a whole orbit we all had our radios off!”
“When we came up to aos over one of the sites,” said Carr, “the ground called us, and we didn’t answer them for a whole orbit. Regrettably that caused a lot of concern down on the ground. And of course the press just thought that was wonderful. They said, ‘Look at that. These testy, crabby old astronauts up there won’t even answer the radio now. They’ve turned it off and won’t listen to the ground anymore.’ We’ve had to live under that stigma they falsely created ever since.”
“Problems that surfaced early in our mission were created by competent, well-intentioned people,” said Gibson. “The exceptions were the dramatic stories fabricated by the media and later repeated and exaggerated in a book on Skylab and a Harvard Business School study. There was no ‘strike in space’ by any stretch of the imagination. What could we threaten to do, go live on the moon? If any of these writers had gotten their information from just one of us, the crew or other people directly involved, responsible reporting and validity would have prevailed over expediency and sensationalism.”
While finally taking a day off gave the crew a much-needed break and helped relieve some of the stress they were under, it didn’t really change the situation. “Right after our real day off,” Jerry Carr said, “we got right back onto the treadmill, and things weren’t getting any better. Finally after several weeks into the mission, it all came to a head. After dinner we always had a medical conference with the flight surgeon where we would tell him how we were doing physically, and we give him the readings for the food that we’d eaten and the water we’d drunk and all other data that they needed for their metabolic analysis. I said, ‘You know, I think we need to have
a seance here.’ I told him about our situation, that we weren’t too terribly happy and that we were quite sure the ground wasn’t happy either. ‘It’s time for us to have a discussion, a frank discussion. We can do it on this channel if they want.’
“That request went down to the doctors, they passed the word, and, when the press got a hold of it, they raised Cain. So Mission Control came back and said, ‘We’re going to have to do it on the open circuit.’ I said, ‘That’s fine.’
“So one evening we started talking with ground as we came up over Gold – stone [California]. We had the whole U. S. pass, essentially, for me to tell them all the things that were bothering us. ‘We need more time to rest. We need a schedule that’s not quite so packed. We don’t want to exercise after a meal. We need to get the pace of things under control.’ Then we said, ‘Okay, now, next pass over the U. S., you guys please tell us what your problems are.’
“So during the next U. S. pass, they bent our ear with all of the things that we were doing, including our rigidity that made it difficult for them to have the flexibility to schedule us how they needed to. We came back with, ‘Let’s think about it overnight and try to come up with a solution by the morning.’
“The next morning they sent a teletype message in which they recommended quite a few things. The most important one was to take all of the menial, routine housekeeping chores out of the schedule and put them on what we called a shopping list. They were things that needed to be done that day but not at any particular time. Of course, they still had to hard schedule those activities that were required at a specific time or location in orbit. By opening up the schedule that way, they really took the pressure off. We were no longer racing the clock to get things done. It solved the problem.
“They also said, ‘We’re not going to hassle you anymore during meals or give you any major assignments after dinner. After dinner is relaxation time for you. Do a few things like some student experiments, but we’re not going to have any major experiments after dinner.’
“We said ‘That sounds great. Let’s go with it!’ And it worked beautifully. It’s a testimony to the human condition. Henry Ford probably learned it on his assembly line. The line can only go so fast before you start making mistakes.
“We also felt that the extra time was needed to do some creative thinking. As a result of having all that extra time, we were all able to gin up some experiments that we had wanted to do and put on TV. Some of the results are being used today in schools such as short physics experiments and experiments with water in zero gravity. The loosening of the schedule really solved the problem. We got the more important experiments done immediately or at a required time, and everything else got done when we could. That flexibility gave us some control, put us in positive frame of mind, and increased our productivity. Everybody won!”
“After the crew came back and we had gotten through the debriefing process,” Neil Hutchinson recalled, “it was pretty obvious that we had had some real scheduling and performance problems at the beginning of the flight. There have been a couple of books written that stated that there was a strike in space even though that was clearly not the case. There is even a Harvard Business School case about it. If you get an MBA at Stanford or somewhere, you’re likely to get the Harvard Business School case about Skylab ill. They talk about people’s expectations and miscommunication as part of a management process. I don’t know if it’s a good example or not.
“I just look on it as a time when we just weren’t thinking straight. We should have seen it even though it was very insidious because the mistakes were little at first. Just every once in a while you kind of caught in somebody’s tone of voice that he was irritated. It was not a good scene, but yes, good lessons were learned.”
Ed Gibson noted that, long before Skylab ill, he had experienced slow starts: “As a little kid, I was slow, a lethargic dreamer. One of my earliest memories is that of lying on the living room floor, drawing pictures of the solar system, and dreaming. I sensed a fascinating and never-ending world in the night sky and inherently knew that, somehow, I had to become part of it.
“However, at an early age, I had contracted osteomyelitis, a bone infection in my leg; and amputation, the standard treatment, was contemplated. That would have really slowed me up. But first, my doctor thought a newly developed drug called ‘penicillin’ was worth a try. It worked.
“Then I encountered another roadblock: me. Dreamers make poor students, and the kindest thing I can say about my early academic career is that I was president of my first-grade class — two years in a row! Fortunately failure was not in my dad’s makeup, and he was determined it wouldn’t be in mine either. My performance in high school rocketed up to mediocre. At
the University of Rochester, the only school that would accept me, I decided it was then or never, and I got to work.
“The world of high-performance aircraft and rockets, steps towards the stars, fascinated me, but because I once had osteomyelitis, I could never pass a military flight physical. I had to accept my destiny as a ‘ground pounder’ and developed the skills to design what I couldn’t fly. It was a slower paced life than I wanted. That’s when my wife read me the article in the L. A. Times that ultimately led to my presence on Skylab. Julie has always been my most ardent supporter and constructive critic. Anything I’ve been privileged to do would never have been possible without her support at every step along the way.
“I guess slow starts are in my blood.”
Others on the ground reflected on the situation. Skylab II commander Alan Bean said that the failure of NASA to shift gears after his mission was a major factor: “I think Mission Control should have gone back to how they started with us. I believe that they started them out near where we ended, rather than maybe io to 15 percent less. Kraft called Pete and me over to talk with him and his managers. I told them, ‘Mission Control plans to lighten up on these guys, but they don’t ever do it. They have to lighten up and let these guys catch their breath.’ Then finally Jerry Carr said ‘We’re not going to do this anymore, because we can’t.’ And he was right. They couldn’t. We couldn’t do it on Day 1—or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5—either.”
Bob Crippen, crewmember of smeat and Capcom for all three Skylab missions said: “I can see how the situation developed over the course of the three missions. On Conrad’s crew, most of that time was spent repairing Skylab so that it would function, and we didn’t really work that hard on the experiments. Then Bean and his crew went up, started off at a slow rate, and then kind of built up speed and got more efficient, and we accelerated after them. At the end of that mission, we on the ground were used to operating at about that pace. And then here comes the new crew, Jerry Carr and his guys, and we started scheduling things at about the same rate that the last guys had ended up with.
“Part of what my job as Capcom was to try to sense what was going on, and truthfully, they were having some problems here and there, and we tried to scale back a little bit while we were doing scheduling at night. It was not until Jerry finally requested the conference to work things out that
Mission Control really understood what was happening. It took that to hit us on the head.
“But that’s also the job of the crew because when you’re sitting on the ground and trying to communicate only over the radio, it is hard to put yourself in their position in orbit. That’s one of the responsibilities of the commander —to come back and say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t work and that doesn’t work.’ They have to let us know what’s really going on.
“The ground controllers, my flight director [Don Puddy], and I were upset because we had not seen the problem coming on as big as it did and had not appreciated the extent that it was actually affecting the crew. They just kept trying to make things work without telling us about their difficulties.
“Even though we all initially got off on the wrong foot, Jerry, Bill, and Ed did super once we got things back on track. And no, there was no rebellion. I think the rest of the flight directors and the Capcoms would certainly say the same thing.”
With the scheduling problems worked out, the contrast was sharp. No longer held back by these difficulties, the crew’s performance accelerated rapidly. The slow start was behind them. “As it turned out, when the mission was over, we had completed every one of the experiments that we needed to do, plus a lot of extra ones that we dreamed up,” Carr said. And although it was not obvious to everyone at the time, valuable progress had been made in moving America’s space operations experience forward.
“As our mission progressed, Mission Control and we learned together how best to achieve the highest performance,” said Gibson. “They were hard – won lessons, and because of past history and philosophy of operations, they were inevitable lessons that had to be learned either right there on our mission or ultimately on early space station missions.”
Throughout the whole mission, atm (solar observations) was an area that received considerable attention. “When we studied the sun,” Ed Gibson said, “we used the atm panel to monitor and control seven different instruments that ‘looked’ at the sun in visible light rays all the way down to x-rays. Even though I helped design the panel, it was a still a highly demanding and sometimes humbling task. Choices had to be continually made in space, time, and wavelength, sometimes within seconds, for experiment observations and then translated into panel switch actuations. The Joint Observing
Programs helped quite a bit, but the real value of having a human at the controls was when targets of opportunity arose and we’d have to put the sheet music away and play more by ear.
“I had a background in plasma physics from Caltech (the sun is one big ball of hot plasma), and I also had studied solar physics ever since I knew I had a chance to fly Skylab. I used the writing of a textbook as a way to focus my efforts and gain more credibility to help put my body into one of the three front-row seats on launch day. I still found the atm a major challenge and empathized with other crewmen whose expertise lay elsewhere. However, after being an operator of Skylab and the atm for eighty-four days, I feel strongly that mental challenges of this magnitude are essential to maintain sanity on future long-duration missions.
“The most demanding task was trying to capture the birth of a flare, which lasts only a minute or two. Understanding a flare’s triggering mechanism is essential if we are ever going to be able to predict when and where flares will occur. The difficulty came in because almost all instruments used film to record their data, a limited supply of film that could be rapidly consumed during the high data acquisition rates required by flare observations. We had only so much film onboard and [a limited number of} evas to replace it. Thus, we were in a Catch-22. How do you know when to go into flare observations until a flare is well underway; that is, past its birth and well into its teenage years? It took a while to get the hang of it, and the extreme ultraviolet light monitor was indispensable.
“It was in the xuv monitor that one could see an active region start to simmer. It was almost like watching a pot of water getting ready to boil. When were the releases of points of xuv radiation (like the formation of little bubbles on the bottom of a pan) rapid and intense enough to predict the eruption of a flare (like large bubbles exploding upward to bring chaos to the water)?
“Late in the mission I intently stood guard over the atm panel during my scheduled times of atm operation or any of my free time. After many hours of concentration and a few cases of infant mortality, I did catch a flare very early in its life (maybe even still just a toddler). It was much earlier than we’d been able to get data up to that time!
“I’m confident that given high resolution displays of the high energy emissions from the sun (xuv and x-rays) and the time to really study them, the true birth of a flare could be observed. Of course, these days the problem can be brute forced by continuous acquisition of electronic data on active regions at ultra high rates.”
A NASA press release at the time explained, “A solar flare recorded on January 21, 1974 by the Skylab sl-iii mission has created considerable excitement within the worldwide solar physics community. The flare was not large by comparison with those recorded on previous Skylab flights. Ground observers classified it as a medium sized flare. The excitement stems from the news that for the first time in the history of the Skylab missions, a solar flare has been recorded from its beginning through its expiration.”
“Also on our mission,” Ed Gibson said, “the liftoff of a huge prominence on the limb was observed by the coronagraph instrument. The resulting data yielded one of the classic pictures resulting from all of the atm missions. The solar observatory in Hawaii saw the prominence start to liftoff and notified atm scientists in Houston. It was night for us so all three of us were fast asleep. Fortunately, the coronagraph was one instrument that could be operated remotely by the ground.
“Like on previous missions, we also observed the sun hurl out massive amounts of material called coronal mass ejections or cmes. The light from the corona is usually very faint. In contrast, cmes are seen as tight, ragged – edged knots of very intense light that explode outward at tremendous speeds. If conditions are right, some of the cme material can impact our upper atmosphere, our magnetosphere, and play havoc with our communications and electrical power grids on Earth. These events are commonly called solar storms.
“Although lunar geologists and space doctors would give me an argument, I maintain that the atm was the best application of a human’s scientific knowledge and judgment in space ever accomplished.
“On the previous mission, atm operations also set a precedent when principal investigators were allowed to talk directly to the crew. The first time out of the box it was a pressure packed event but Bob MacQueen, an atm experimenter, did an excellent job. On our mission we also had a few discussions with those who were ultimately responsible for the scientific return from several experiments, but we would have liked more.
“Several years after our flight, I talked to a cosmonaut who had flown much longer than we did on Skylab ill. They had a somewhat looser operation. After gaining some familiarity with an experiment before flight, they
39- Ed Gibson at the atm console.
would have a private one-on-one discussion with the investigator the night before it was to be performed. No end-to-end rigorous detailed procedures and timelines were usually created or desired. I believe that a middle ground, the Goldilocks solution, will achieve the highest scientific return.”
With the crew performing at high efficiency and rapidly catching up with and surpassing the tasks that had been planned preflight, they found time to laugh at themselves. “About half way through the mission,” Gibson recalled, “we all noticed water collecting on one on the panels in the Lower Equipment Bay of the Command Module. We thought it would be a bad situation if that water ever seeped into a compartment full of the electronics.
“Jerry took the initiative to get some cloth towels and soak up the water. He did a very neat job. Not wishing to waste the towels, he hung them out to dry in the ows. We all slapped our foreheads when the water evaporated from the towels and went straight back to the coldest spot in the station — the Lower Equipment Bay—from where it had just come! We’d just found another way to keep a Skylab crewman busy.”
“Ed and Bill dreamed up more experiments than you could shake a stick at,” Carr said. “I think one of the funniest pieces of footage I’ve ever seen is
from one of Bill’s experiments. He wanted to demonstrate that, although air is a fluid, a medium just like water, it’s a lot harder to kick, paddle, or swim to get somewhere. He made some big cardboard fins for his hands and feet and put on a crash helmet with big bubble eyes, which made him look like a huge bug. When he drifted out to the center of the workshop and started flapping his paddles, he actually started moving, although very slowly, demonstrating that air is a medium just like water in zero gravity, and you can move around in it—if you the have the right kind of tools and the patience. While Bill was really putting out the energy flapping around, Ed and I got a good laugh.”
The crew was also hitting their stride in terms of the experiments they were performing. They all became much more proficient at Earth observations as the mission continued not only because of the time on orbit but also because of the extra training and emphasis they had put on it.
Ed Gibson recalled, “When we first got up there, we would say, ‘I guess we’re over Africa because it looks like the coastal outline ofAfrica. But after a while we could just look at a little patch of our planet and say, ‘There’s a red windswept desert. We must be over north Africa.’ or, ‘There’s an ocean current, and we can tell by its color and the way it’s meandering that it’s the Falkland current right off the east coast of South America,’ or, ‘There’s a little round patch of clear ocean surrounded by a ring of clouds. That’s where cold water is welling up and quenching cloud formation. Fishing must be good down there.’
“Whenever I had the chance, I would study and photograph my hometown of Buffalo. In December and January, it displayed its standard winter color: white. No matter which way the wind blew in from Canada, it picked up moisture over Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, then, when it hit the cold land, it all dumped out as snow onto Buffalo. However, the sight of it still warmed my heart. The people are great and ultimately responsible for what I’d done in life including flying over them 270 miles up (go bills!).”
“The diametrically opposite corner of the United States, southern California, received considerable attention from all three of us primarily because of the interest of Lee Silver at Caltech in the multitude of crisscrossing fault zones there,” said Pogue. “From our data he discovered a fault that propagated through the airfield at Palmdale, which was the construction site of the Space Shuttles. Fortunately, it has remained inactive. The San Andreas fault and others of less prominence could clearly be seen by eye.”
“On the other side of the Pacific plate,” said Gibson, “the Alpine fault looked like someone had scribed a long, deep, straight line from head to toe on South Island, New Zealand. It was boldly visible, especially at low sun angles.”
“I found weather observations equally interesting,” said Gibson. “One night I watched an extensive series of thunderstorms over the Andes. It was clear that the flashes came in groups as if one flash set off others perhaps through electromagnetic triggers transmitted through the ionosphere. A charge would build up, then ripple fire across the total system, not just at one location. At the time it all seemed so obvious and natural. It was enjoyable to see and acquire an instinctive feel for some of the natural forces on the Earth. However, since then the results have been difficult to reproduce with instrument observations.”
With the longer duration of the third Skylab mission came more opportunities for its crew to venture outside. When the Skylab design was in the requirements phase, the only way an eva capability could be justified was by the film installation and retrieval to service the atm experiments. It became a classic case—in space—of “If you build it, they will come.” The first of the mission’s four evas took place on Mission Day 7, better known on Earth as Thanksgiving Day. On this eva, as well as all the remaining ones, considerably less than 50 percent of the crew’s time was spent on the installation and retrieval of film. The rest of the time was spent on repairs and deployment of other experiments.
Pogue was feeling much better after his initial bout of space sickness by the time he performed the first eva with Gibson. They installed atm film, repaired the microwave antenna, placed an experiment on the atm truss, and took pictures during the six-and-a-half hour eva.
evas were savored by each one of the Skylab crewmen.
“evas were good hard work that always left a feeling of accomplishment,” Ed Gibson said, “as well as some stimulating and lasting visual images. Our training at the neutral-buoyancy tank at Marshall was excellent. Working in the water was always a bit more difficult because of the water resistance and the fact that you could never get weighted out perfectly, which left forces and torques on your body that didn’t exist in space. If you could do it in the tank, you could do it in space.
“Over the years I spent a lot of time at Marshall, not only in training but also in the development of procedures and hardware. In fact the first time
40. The third crew performed a total of four spacewalks during their eighty-four-day stay on Skylab.
Bill and I went out the airlock hatch, part of me expected to see the eyes of safety divers magnified behind their masks ready to assist and big bubbles streaming past my helmet then breaking up, flattening into mushrooms, and turning to white spray at the surface. Instead, it was all clear, no divers, no bubbles. Nothing was outside the hatch but our space station and the Earth 270 miles below.
“Three times I went out that hatch into the ‘truly great outdoors.’ When I was out there, it was a silent world, except for the whispers of my own breath. Sometimes I felt totally alone, like the world below didn’t even know I was there. But then I thought of the many people on consoles in Mission Control who monitored everything on the station, including my every breath, word, and heartbeat, and I realized that I was being fully supported in the most extensive way possible.”
Jerry Carr described the spacewalk: “On the first eva, Bill and Ed went out and did a lot of repair work. We had a microwave antenna on the side of the spacecraft that faced the Earth that needed some diagnostics and repair. Unfortunately there were no handrails or foot restraints on that side; so when we trained for it in the neutral-buoyancy tank, we had to figure out how we were going to get it done.
“Basically, we found a place on a truss where we could fasten foot restraints. Bill got into these restraints and held on to Ed’s feet while he reached up and made the fix to the microwave antenna. It was ad hoc, very difficult, but it worked.”
Ed Gibson said, “Removing the cover from the microwave antenna electronics box turned out to be exceptionally difficult. On one side of the box, four screws had to be removed. On the ground it was easy. But in flight because the real box had a metal lip that closely overhung the screws, it was anything but easy. The small screwdriver that fit the small screws had to be inserted into the slots from the side of the screw heads rather from than the top, which was extremely difficult in our large bulky eva gloves.
“Bill and I both gave it a shot. I remember thinking on my last try, ‘Our success here is limited only by something physical. We’re just not going back in until this little hummer is fixed!’ After the better part of an hour, we got the top removed and the work done. It felt good to achieve something difficult, even though most of my fingernails had turned purple from the intense and prolonged squeezing of the screwdriver.
“To get to the antenna electronics box, many layers of aluminized Mylar insulation had to be cut away with a scissors. Most of these highly reflective pieces floated free and were blown away from Skylab by the gases venting from our suits. It happened at sunset so that the red light of the setting sun reflected off these tumbling reflectors in the distance. We commented on the cloud of red flashing lights that appeared to be following us. One of the tabloids picked up on what we saw and of course did not give the real explanation. Clearly, we were not chased by flashing red UFOs guided by extraterrestrial intelligence.”
The new holiday eva tradition continued on Christmas Day. It was the first time a NASA astronaut had been in space on that day since the Apollo 8 crew was on their way back from the moon five years earlier. (Just a week earlier, another first had been marked—the 18 December launch of Soyuz 13 meant that for the first time, U. S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts were in space at the same time.) Among the tasks Carr and Pogue performed during the second eva was to take pictures of Comet Kohoutek.
“evas were spectacular,” Carr said. “The second eva was on Christmas Day, and Bill and I were out for seven hours. I was amazed when I got back in because I expected that I’d have to go to the bathroom something fierce,
but I didn’t. Apparently, I had gotten rid of a lot of fluids in the form of sweat through my pores. When I got back in, I was really sweaty, but I really didn’t have to urinate. I was just amazed that, after seven hours, I wasn’t pretty interested in streaking to the urinal.”
“On Christmas of 1973,” Bill Pogue said, “Jerry and I were suited up for an eva to do routine servicing of the solar observatory (removing and replacing film magazines). I was to also set up a camera to take imagery of Comet Kohoutek, and Jerry was to repair one of the solar telescopes using procedures developed by ground personnel. Jerry and I got into the Skylab airlock surrounded by two seventy-five-pound film magazines, a special camera for taking pictures of the comet, and tools for Jerry’s repair job.
“We closed the airlock hatches that sealed us off from the rest of Skylab and dumped the pressure from the airlock. When the pressure dropped our suits began to inflate and stiffen just as we expected. At this point I was curious to see how our inflated suits and all the hardware were going to fit in the confined space of the airlock. It turned out to be no problem.
“When the airlock pressure dropped to a vacuum, we opened the hatch and began the first task. Jerry went hand over hand out to the end of the solar observatory while I got the replacement film magazines ready. I operated an extendable boom to transfer the first film canister to Jerry; he removed it and loaded the exposed canister to the boom; I retracted the boom while Jerry loaded the fresh canister to replace the one he had just removed, and when he gave me the ок, I sent the second canister out, we repeated the procedure and were finished in record time.
“I went into the airlock, grabbed the comet camera, and left the airlock as Jerry was returning for his tools. Everything was going like clockwork. I mounted the comet camera on a round Skylab strut and positioned it so that one of the solar arrays just blocked the sun. I couldn’t see the comet but ground had sent me a diagram by teleprinter. The instructions were clear, and it was a fairly easy job. I turned on the camera, and I was finished.
“Because this was my last eva, I decided to make the most of it. I crawled all over the accessible parts of Skylab. It reminded me of when I was a kid doing a mud crawl in a four-foot-deep stock tank used for watering cows and horses. The animals didn’t appreciate it, but very few people had swimming pools at that time, and the stock tank was one way to get cool during hot Oklahoma summers.
“My adventurous foray over Skylab ended with me at the sun end of the solar observatory. I was positioned where Jerry had been earlier and the view was breathtaking. When I leaned my head way back I could see the Earth below with no intervening structure in my line of sight. As others had described to me, I had the feeling I was doing a slow swan dive through space. My euphoria was suddenly dashed by comments from Ed who was holding down the fort inside. After I listened to Ed describe the problem that now occupied Mission Control, he asked where I was. I said, ‘The sun end of the atm.’ I quickly deduced that I had stayed too long at that location and got moving.
“On Skylab we had three large gyroscopes to maintain attitude control. It was obviously important to keep the telescopes pointed toward the sun during solar observations, and the gyros did a great job. Unfortunately one gyro had failed while Ed and I were out on our first eva (Thanksgiving of :i973). Theoretically the remaining two gyros were supposed to be adequate, but in fact we frequently had to perform a special procedure to keep them working properly.
“I was really embarrassed. I had unintentionally caused the current problem, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Our suits were fed oxygen from inside Skylab, and there was no recycling of the air. It automatically fed in near the back of my head, flowed down across my face, and then escaped out the front of the suit near my waist. The outward airflow had acted like a small thruster, like letting the air out of a balloon. Although the force from the escaping air was small, my position at the sun end of the atm magnified the thrusting effect because I was about thirty feet from the centerline of Skylab. In other words this lever arm was giving the force of the escaping air a lot of leverage. The airflow from my suit was rotating a one-hundred-ton space station!
“Jerry called asking for help, and I was more than happy to accommodate him. He couldn’t reach a critical location, so I got into his work position and held his legs under my arms to extend his reach. It took a while but Jerry finally finished, we tidied up everything, I retrieved the comet camera, and we ended the eva. When we got back inside, Capcom informed us that we had set a new eva record of just over seven hours. What a blast!”
“That evening after the eva,” said Carr, “we did a TV presentation for the people on the ground. The three of us observed what it was like to be up there, what we saw on the ground, and how we felt about it. We had built a Christmas tree out of a bunch of food can liners from our kitchen and
fashioned them into what looked like a little aluminum cedar tree. Then we had taken several kinds of decals, orange and red and green decals, and stuck them on the tree for decoration. Lastly in honor of Comet Kohoutek, we made a silver foil star with a tail and put it on the top. That was our Christmas tree.”
Four days later Carr and Gibson each made their second eva, taking more comet pictures. They also obtained a sample of the Airlock Module’s micrometeoroid cover, which was to be studied to learn more about the effects of space exposure.
“In terms of brilliance, Comet Kohoutek was a disappointment,” Carr said. “We and everybody on the ground thought that it was going to be a beautiful, brilliant comet. It turned out to be beautiful all right, but it was so faint that we really had to work to find it. Once we did find it, we observed a gorgeous thing: small, faint, but gorgeous! Although we took as many pictures as we could, I don’t think our film was sensitive enough to really record good data. I believe the only decent picture taken was with the cor- onagraph on the atm. The people on the ground got better pictures of the comet than we did.”
Though the pictures were disappointing, their observations weren’t a complete waste. “In order to best describe what we saw, we made drawings,” Carr said. “Ed was the point man on that. With Bill and I looking over his shoulder, he made the drawings and then did a TV report showing the drawings and describing the colors that we saw. There was a little beak on the front end of the comet, which he described as well as [giving] its significance. These pictures are now in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. The comet’s low brightness was a disappointment, but it was exciting to look for and find it. We also set up experiments outside to try to capture it after we went back inside. We then brought them in on a subsequent eva.”
The crew’s fourth and final eva, on 3 February 1973, was once more performed by Carr and Gibson. It was the last to take place on Skylab and its purpose reflected that finality. They were to gather everything outside that was going to go back to Earth, including the last of the atm film and also try out a much simpler equipment transfer device than the extendable boom used on all other Skylab evas.
“On our last eva,” Ed Gibson recalled, “Jerry and I tried out the clothesline that had been proposed as another way to send the large atm film packs
4i. To supplement the disappointing atm imagery of Kohoutek, the crew made sketches from their own observations.
back and forth between the airlock and the sun end of the atm. An image sprang to mind of the clothesline [being] outside the station holding the wet towels that we had employed unsuccessfully to clean up the water in the [Lower Equipment Bay] of the Command Module, an image of ‘wash day on Skylab’ that we quickly censored and got back to work.”
“The clothesline could not have been more simple: a closed loop of rope sliding over two polished cylinders attached to hooks on each end of the line and two hooks about two feet apart clipped to the rope. Aside from some oscillations of the objects being transported, which we easily controlled, it functioned well.
“However, after the clothesline had served its purpose, it was left up and led to some congestion in the workstation at the airlock, which caused me a
problem. In subsequent work there, the rope got entangled with the umbilical connection to my suit and actually disconnected it. I could not feel it happening because the suit, once inflated, is a good insulator from all subtle contacts with the outside world. My secondary oxygen pack had picked up the task of keeping my suit inflated, but the fluid line leading to my liquid cooled garment was hosing out a water-glycol solution into the vacuum where it immediately turned to yellow ice. Once alerted by the ice fountain in front of me, I immediately remade the connection and everything returned to normal, except for the heart rate of the controller in Houston monitoring my suit.”
Skylab ill served as a bridge between two eras of evas. Not only did the crew perform the last eva of the Apollo era and the last using a Gemini hatch, they also paved the way for future evas of the Shuttle era. Though it was not used outside, the third crew, like the second, tested an early version of what would become the Manned Maneuvering Unit (mmu). In 1984 the backpack would allow astronauts to perform evas floating untethered in space, essentially its users became self-contained human satellites orbiting the Earth.
“The mmu was a lot of fun,” Bill Pogue recalled. “We flew it both shirtsleeved and suited. Towards the end of our flight, we were running low on nitrogen gas that was used as the propellant, which meant that this had to be our last run. It got a little tense and exciting on Jerry’s last suited run. I was observing and taking pictures. We didn’t have any kind of remote radios or other types of communication with each other. But I could see the gauge on Jerry’s oxygen bottle on his right leg, and it was running low. I kept pointing to it, and he kept gesturing that he wanted to finish.
“He kept going, finally got real close to finishing, but was getting red in the face. I slammed him down, pulled the release on his helmet, and popped it off. He was really sucking air but determined that he was going to finish, which I think he probably did. I was sweating bullets too because it looked like he was in C02 saturation. Actually, it was no big problem because at any time I could pop his helmet. I was just mother-henning him to death while he was sweating and puffing.”
Medical experiments and observations took an increasing priority for the crew that would set a new world space endurance record.
“The bicycle ergometer was a great exercise tool as well as a good experiment,” Ed Gibson said. “Especially early in the mission, it was a relief to have
42. Carr pilots the maneuvering unit inside Skylab.
the blood pulled down into our legs to support our exercise, which relieved some of the fullness in our heads caused by the zero gravity and resulting upward fluid shift.
“Once I got pretty cranked up and developed a good sweat, a considerable amount of water clung to my back in a sheet and oscillated like Jello as I peddled. If a towel was not available, the shake-like-a-dog procedure usually worked. In zero gravity we couldn’t use the seat on the bike, the straps to hold us in place caused too much chafing, and my arms got tired of holding me stable at high workloads for forty-five minutes. Instead I used my head. I taped a folded towel on the ceiling and put the top of my head against it to stabilize my body while I peddled. It worked!
“We also had something onboard that the previous crews did not, a device called ‘Thornton’s Revenge,’ named in honor of Bill Thornton, the astronaut-physician who had a knack of doing highly beneficial things in clever and simple ways. Previous crews reported that they could have used some form of exercise that maintained the strength in their leg muscles that they used for walking and running upon return to Earth.
“Bill again came to the rescue with a poor man’s treadmill. It consisted of a thin sheet of Teflon about a foot wide and three feet long and bungee cords that went over our shoulders to hold us down against the Teflon with a force equal to approximately our own weight. With only stocking feet against the Teflon, we could simulate walking or running by forcing our feet to slide over the Teflon one after the other, or we could just bounce up and down.
“Use of this exercise equipment was one of the few times I ever worried about what and when I ate before exercise. Eating some fire-hot chili before exercise is bad enough on Earth, but in zero gravity it’s doubly bad, a real killer. That’s because without gravity it bounces against the top of your stomach as well. Mixing chili and a treadmill aside, it was enjoyable exercise and definitely helped maintain leg strength. Thanks, Bill!
“Because of the extra requirements placed on the food system by the mineral balance experiment, this system was as much of a medical experiment as it was a crew habitability system. Despite having to do double duty, we found the food to be great. Many people picture tough astronauts in space surviving on food from squeeze tubes. That’s the wrong image. Try the image of filet mignon, lobster Newburg, and strawberry sundaes.”
“Our crew also broke new ground in the annals of spaceflight with the first full set of condiments in space,” said Bill Pogue. “Rita Rapp developed them for the second crew after Pete had really railed about the ‘yucky’ bland taste of their food. Imagine, they had no condiments! The second crew took up only regular salt and pepper. But we had deluxe treatment: liquid salt, liquid pepper, hot sauce, horseradish, and garlic! Life couldn’t get any better than that.”
Between luxuriously seasoned meals, work continued. Ed Gibson recalled: “We also performed an experiment to nail down previous crews’ observations. Light flashes had been observed by dark-adapted crewpersons when outside the van Allen radiation belts [lunar flights] and in Earth orbit when going through the South Atlantic Anomaly (saa) where the inner radiation belt dips down lower than at all other locations around the globe. Even though a rough correspondence between the occurrence of the light flashes and presence in the saa was observed on the two previous Skylab missions, no exact correlation had been made. Bill Pogue was selected and enthusiastically performed this arduous experiment.
“His task was to float in his sleep compartment wearing a blindfold and speak into a tape recorder every time he observed a flash. When the frequency of flashes was plotted against Skylab’s position in orbit, a well-defined bell shaped curve resulted that was centered exactly over the saa. Jerry and I praised Bill for his Herculean effort in the name of science.
“After a few weeks into the mission, something happened that made me think Skylab had a heart. I was looking out the wardroom window watching the spider web of lights blanketing the U. S. slide underneath while I held onto a handhold with the fingertips of one hand. Then I felt it—the station had a pulse, a heartbeat. I felt a beat just as real as a pulse in anyone’s wrist!
“Of course I understood the absurdity of my observation, but it took me a few seconds to realize that I was really feeling the surges of blood through my own arteries and the accompanying deflection of my arm and fingers. Normally, on Earth these forces are unnoticeable because they are swamped by gravity forces. We really did live in a world of fingertip forces.
“By the time the third mission rolled around, Goddard Space Flight Center had gotten pretty accurate at pointing lasers at Skylab. Using lasers of only a few watts, they provided a point light source of various colors that we could track by eye from right over gsfc to almost one thousand miles out to sea. We thought it amazing at the time, and we still do.”
Especially on the last of Skylab’s three missions, cleanliness became a bigger challenge than ever. “As on Earth,” Bill Pogue said, “a lot of trash accumulated during the day including food packaging, tissues, wet wipes, dirty towels, and washcloths. Most of this trash was immediately shoved through a push-through slot into a waste container. However, bits of skin, fingernails, hair, food crumbs, odd pieces of paper, and the like tended to drift around and eventually were sucked up against the air filter screens—our lost and found department. We used vacuum cleaners to clean off these screens, which took care of most of the problem.
“The worst mess was in the area where we ate. Small drops of liquid from our drinks and crumbs from our food would float around until they stuck on the wall or in the open grid ceiling above our food table. This grid and the area above it became quite dirty after three missions. Although we could see into this ceiling area, we couldn’t get our hands in to wipe it clean, so it became progressively worse throughout the missions. Near the end of the flight, it began to look like the bottom of a birdcage. I just stopped looking at it.
“Every two weeks we wiped down the walls and surfaces of the toilet with a biocide [disinfectant] to prevent a buildup of microorganisms such as germs or mold. Periodic cleaning of this type will be required for the International Space Station to prevent a gradual buildup of biologically active contamination. It will be a time-consuming procedure but essential to preserve a healthy environment for the crew.”
Like the other crews, Skylab ill crew used the shower onboard. “Although we found that a washcloth, soap, and water followed up with a towel were perfectly good for maintaining satisfactory hygiene in zero gravity, we also tried out the shower that Bill Schneider, our Skylab program director, had worked so hard to get onboard,” Gibson recalled. “He and others deserved that we each give it a fair try and evaluation.
“Granted it took a lot of time to set up and tear down, but I found it both interesting and refreshing. Because of its limited hot-water supply, it was like taking a shower with a Windex bottle. A smidgen of hot water was used to get wet and soaped up; the remaining smidgen was used to try to rinse off. The little hand vacuum, which was supposed to be used to remove the liquid, was awkward and difficult to use to reach all body parts. So I tried shaking like a dog, which sprayed most of the liquid to the inside surface of the shower enclosure, and then using the vacuum to clean it all up.
“I concluded that the whole procedure had to be made simpler and faster, analogous to passing through a car wash in two or three minutes if we are to have a shower on future stations. Nonetheless, we were appreciative that it was onboard and we had a chance to use it.”
Several challenges to the crew grew progressively more severe as the last of the three missions progressed because of the gradual decline in the station’s condition. Maintenance and repairs had been a part of the crew’s duties even before the first crew ever docked, and there were always concerns about the potential effects of further failures.
“Below the hydrogen tank in the third stage of our Saturn v, our pressurized habitable volume,” Bill Pogue said, “was the liquid oxygen tank or lox tank, which was about the volume of a one-car garage [2,500 cubic feet] and served as the Skylab trash dump site or dumpster. Without it life onboard Skylab would have been altogether different, just as life in our homes on Earth would be different if we had to keep our trash inside, had no garage, and our trash pickup stopped. There was the constant threat that we would lose access to our dumpster, and our habitable volume would gradually fill up with our trash, which included biodegradable garbage and waste [food residue and urine bags].
“Our access to our dumpster was through an airlock, the Trash Airlock. We compacted our garbage as much as possible, placed it in a special bag, put it into the TAL, closed the lid, opened the TAL to the vacuum of the lox tank, shoved the bag out and into the tank, and then repressurized the TAL to the pressure of our habitable volume for the next use.
“The lid on the TAL began to cause difficulties on the second mission. The hatch became more and more difficult to latch in the closed position. On our mission, the problem became more severe, and we were desperate to keep the tal working.
“We finally worked out a system whereby J erry would load the trash bag in the bin of the Trash Airlock, and I would float above holding onto the ceiling. As he pulled the lever to lock the hatch closed, I would push myself down sharply and stomp on the hatch lid while Jerry closed the locking lever.
“Was it a barnyard procedure? You bet, but it worked!”
Throughout their eighty-four days without gravity, the crew observed and thought about their reactions to this new mode of living. “Do we sense—or even need—up or down without gravity?” Ed Gibson recalled. “Early in our mission, our new world of zero gravity became familiar, then just plain comfortable. From many hours in a water tank, viewing films of previous crews, and actual zero gravity experienced for short times in aircraft, I came to picture a large switch on my forehead with two positions: one-G and zero-G. It got automatically thrown at booster engine cutoff from the first to the second position.
“Of course there was a lot to learn about the techniques of working without gravity, but zero gravity seemed familiar even on the first day. The harder we worked, the more efficient and confident we became. We soon realized at the gut level that space and its zero gravity is not foreign, not hostile. Rather it became just as friendly as gravity on Earth once we adapted. I do not know why I adapted so quickly and relatively painlessly. I was just lucky. I have always been able to visualize and think in three dimensions. Thus, as soon as we entered Skylab, I felt that my life had taken on another dimension, literally. No longer was there an up or down, except for visual references on panels or faces, but all dimensions became equal. Every motion was across, regardless of its direction inside or outside of Skylab.
“Yet my physiological responses did not forget gravity entirely. Some engineers came up with an ‘experiment’ for us to try out at our leisure. It was the ‘Dynamical Acceleration Reference Trajectory Studies (darts).’ When we tried out these Velcro-tipped darts, we were in for a surprise. Without concentration, a thrown dart would fly twenty to forty degrees up relative to the thrower, and far off the intended target. We lob things down here when we throw them to counteract gravity. Up there lobbing is not useful. Only by ‘pushing’ the dart out and away from my body was I able to achieve some accuracy. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I grew up in zero gravity, then came down to Earth and tried to gently throw something. In this case, gravity would be viewed as the exception, not the rule, and a real inconvenience.
“A related series of observations were made by the Skylab II guys who experimented with fish. Normally they swam with their bellies towards a surface or their backs toward a light. But when they were excited, they swam in what aviators call outside loops. However, when their offspring were born, they considered three dimensions natural and didn’t favor one over another; that is, no up or down was recognized or needed. I felt a bit like them. But will it really be so easy to shed millions of years of human evolution by stepping down one generation that has never experienced gravity?
“Pete’s and Al’s guys made the most of the third dimension when it became available to them especially when they set up their own version of the Indy 500, streaking around the dome lockers. But by the time we got up to Skylab, the Control Moment Gyros were showing signs of real wear. Eventually one died and a second one was pulling back the covers on its deathbed.
Thus, running around the dome lockers was verboten because of the stress it put on the cmgs.
“We had to find other ways to enjoy zero gravity. I found that if I lay on my back on the grid floor of the ows and used my wrists only to put some rotation and just a little translation into my body, I could go into a tuck position and spin exceptionally long times before I clanged into a wall. After reviewing the video, I asked Jannet, my oldest daughter, who was a diver at the time, if she could match one of my feats—it turned out to be a ten and one-half gainer in tuck position followed by a two and one-half forward in pike position.
“This tumbling exercise and the many others carried out by all Skylab crewmen illustrate the insensitivity to gross stimulation of the body’s vestibular apparatus (semicircular canals) that developed in zero gravity. In my tumbles, I would develop severe nystagmus, or twitching of the eyes, as my eyes tried to catch up with the fluid racing through my semicircular canals, but none of it ever coupled into the gut to create nausea. I just passively spun and then watched the world flicker by for ten to twenty seconds.”
The sensation of height proved to be inconsistent and elusive to Gibson: “There were a few exceptions in my ability to think of everything as just ‘across.’ One day after looking out a window in the mda for almost fifteen minutes to watch the new and interesting features that never stopped coming over the horizon, I glanced back inside. The local vertical on Earth had become aligned with the long open direction from the mda to the bottom of the ows. An instantaneous reaction surfaced: I’m going to fall! After I clutched a handhold, I laughed at myself and realized I hadn’t forgotten gravity completely.
“For several years after our return, every time I looked out a round porthole in the galley of a commercial airliner, part of me felt I was floating back in Skylab looking out a round porthole in the mda except that from the airliner the horizon was flat and my vision covered half a city, not half a continent.
“Another but stronger feeling of height crept up on me during our spacewalks. I have found it difficult to step out the door of an airplane when skydiving. It was considerably easier to step out of the airlock even though we were 270 miles up. As long as I was close to structure, I still felt a part of it. But it felt different when I moved out and away.
“I have equated it in my mind to going to the top of a tall building and looking out. It’s pleasant, relaxing. But now, what happens if I open the window and walk out to the end of a long springboard where a steel-fisted Hulk Hogan holds me by my ankles—head down. ‘Intellectually,’ I know I’ll never fall. And even though I’m at the same height as I was inside, I’d have to admit. . . it feels a bit different.
“On an eva I had that same feeling, just more of it. Head down, I’d glide over Earth at a very serene five miles a second. And the laws of Sir Isaac Newton gave me full intellectual confidence that I was up there to stay. But when I moved away from the main body of Skylab, like hanging off the sun end of the atm, and looked straight down at Earth 270 miles below, I felt or saw nothing else around me. That’s when that same little guy from liftoff whispered again from nowhere, ‘Suppose that Newton guy was just a little bit wrong?’”
Though the possibility of an extended mission was already being explored well before their launch, officially, the target duration had remained at fifty-six days, as it had been for the second crew. By the time that duration was reached, the crew had a “Go” to stay. However, extensions were approved for a week at a time as the ground carefully monitored the status of the spacecraft, the crew, and the supplies.
NASA press releases issued at the time give the official view:
Release No.: 74-20