Category HOMESTEADING SPACE

Aircraft-borne Lasers to

Profile Earth and Sea during Final Skylab Flight—

As Skylab’s third crew collects data on the Earth’s resources from 270 miles out in space, two aircraft from the Johnson Space Center (jsc) will skim near the surface using laser instruments to provide an exact profile ofthe land and water at more than a dozen sites. During the coming months, nasa aircraft will use laserprofilometers over portions of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexi­co, the Puerto Rican Trench, and the Great Salt Lake to support Skylab remote­sensing passes over the same areas.

Skylab Gypsy Moth Research Project—

One thousand gypsy moth eggs in two special vials will be launched aboard the third and final Skylab mission on November 10. The first moths in space are part ofa research project sponsored by the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricul­tural Research (aphis) in cooperation with nasa. Agriculture scientists are try­ing to find out ifthe state ofweightlessness might be the key to altering the gypsy moth’s life cycle. If weightlessness does prove to be the factor, the key point may be found in rearing insects by the missions and thus controlling a whole class of insect pests with similar life cycles.

Third Skylab Crew to Expand Knowledge
of Earth’s Resources—

Astronauts Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue will be well equipped to survey the Earth during a final Skylab mission that could last nearly three months. Their training included 40 hours of special lectures on Earth observa­tions and they’re taking along a detailed handbook for viewing Earth from space and the largest store of film and computer tapes ever supplied for a Skylab mis­sion. Meanwhile, the 20,000 Earth photographs and 24 miles of computer tape obtained during the two previous Skylab flights will be undergoing extensive analysis by iff Principal Investigators and their staffs in the United States and 18 foreign countries. Before the first ereppass of the final Skylab mission can be undertaken, Science Pilot Ed Gibson, assisted by his fellow crewmembers, will attempt to repair the antenna drive system for the microwave radiometer-scat- terometer-altimeter (sipj). Gibson will work on the Sip3 instrument during the crew’s first walk outside the space station, scheduled for the week following launch. Pilot Bill Pogue will join him outside.

Student Experiments

“The Skylab Student Program came into being because some of us involved in the space program were concerned over the decline in interest of our youth in science and engineering fields in ‘post-Apollo’ days, the first moon land­ings in 1969 having recently been made,” said Jack Waite, who served as the student experiment project coordinator while at Marshall Space Flight Cen­ter. “A number of NASA headquarters and field center personnel (msfc and msc, now jsc) discussed ways to stimulate the American youth interest in these fields. It became apparent that they could, even should, be an integral part of the Skylab Experiment Program. At headquarters Joe Lundholm was a key player, along with the program directors Bill Schneider and John Disher, Reg Machell at msc, and myself from msfc.”

Waite’s position as head of the Experiment Development and Integration Office at Marshall and also as a representative on the Manned Space Flight Experiment Board allowed him to facilitate this work over the next several years and to follow up the student careers for decades to follow.

The program developed was a nationwide contest for seventh – through twelfth-grade students and patterned very much like formal university space­flight projects are selected. A “Request for Proposals” was sent to all fifty states and nine overseas high schools. These proposals were to be related to research experiments in seven basic areas of study: astronomy, botany, Earth observations, microbiology, physics, physiology, and zoology. The Marshall Skylab Experiments Office, which Waite headed, was designated to manage the student program. A total of 3,409 proposals were submitted and evaluated by the National Science Teachers Association, with partici­pation from National Council for the Social Studies, NASA, and even Sky­lab flight crewmembers. From that total, twenty-five were selected as win­ners and twenty-two ended up being incorporated into the Skylab flight program, some carried out on each of the three missions. Most involved some modest hardware elements that were designed by the student principal investigators working with engineers at Marshall and structured as would be any professional program. Crew safety was always considered as well as

Student Experiments

4.6. Students chosen to participate in the Skylab science program gather on the steps of Marshall Space Flight Center’s headquarters building.

compatibility with all other experiments and systems. Design reviews and mission operations were reviewed, as were all other experiments by the Mar­shall Experiments Office.

The student program was and is considered a tremendous success. A yard­stick for success should be the degree to which student interest and enthusi­asm has carried over into career activities. While it is not possible to objec­tively measure the degree to which high-school students nationwide may have been moved to a better science and engineering awareness and career involvement, it is possible to follow most of these particular students, which Waite has done with great perseverance for decades. Among the twenty-two projects which ended up with approved and flown activities, the student Pis achieved careers as follows: six became science teachers (elementary, sec­ondary, and university levels), seven were engineers and/or scientists, three became medical doctors, four had business careers, one was a military offi­cer, and one became a monk. Many university advanced degrees are pres­ent in their biographies as well.

“Likely the most publicized experiment performed was the one proposed by Ms. Judith Miles from Lexington, Massachusetts, to observe how ‘Cross’ spiders spin their webs in space,” Waite said. “At our Skylab thirtieth anni­versary celebration in 2003, we were pleased to have Judy and some of her

family in attendance. The widespread publicity associated with the two spi­ders’ adaptation to weightlessness apparently so fascinated the general pub­lic that many adults still remember the experiments conducted over thirty years ago and have related their stories to new elementary students, so that they also now ask questions about the experiment.”

But some youngsters well before high-school age were already thinking about the mysteries of space and the sun. One of the youngest was Amy Eddy, the then-seven-year-old daughter of Jack Eddy who was a coinvesti­gator and the crews’ teacher in solar physics. His daughter’s poem was pub­lished in the NASA science publication A New Sun: The Solar Results from Skylab along with a drawing:

The Group 5 Rookies

Of all of the groups of astronauts, the fifth—jokingly self-dubbed “The Orig­inal Nineteen” in a nod to the Mercury “Original Seven”—had the most diverse fates when it came to their eventual spaceflight assignments. Nine of them would make their first flights during the Apollo program (Charles Duke, Ronald Evans, Fred Haise, James Irwin, T. K. Mattingly, Edgar Mitchell, Stuart Roosa, John Swigert, and Alfred Worden), with three of them (Duke, Irwin, and Mitchell) walking on the moon. Four would make their rookie flights during the Skylab program (Jerry Carr, Jack Lousma, Bill Pogue, and Paul Weitz); one during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (astp) (Vance Brand); and three would not fly into orbit until the Space Shuttle began operations (Joe Engle, Don Lind, and Bruce McCandless; Engle had flown to the edge of space on the experimental x-15 plane before joining the astronaut corps). One of the members, Ed Givens, died before flying a mis­sion, and another, John Bull, developed a medical condition that disquali­fied him from flight status.

Group 5 member Paul Weitz, who made his first flight as part of the first Skylab crew, said that he does not remember any indication being made when his class joined the corps what their role would be, which he said he could live with: “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I just wanted to get an opportunity to fly in space.”

Even if no formal promise regarding their role had been made, some mem­bers of the group had some expectations. “When we were brought onboard, there was no end at Apollo 20,” Jack Lousma said. “We were going to land on the moon before the end of the decade, and we’re going to explore the moon. And there was no end to the number of Saturn missions there was going to

The Group 5 Rookies

6. Members of the third Skylab crew: (from left) Jerry Carr, Ed Gibson, and Bill Pogue.

be, the number of Saturn flights, Saturn vs, or the number of landings on the moon. It was going to start with the landing, and then it was going to be increased duration, staying on the moon up to a month. And they were going to orbit the moon for two months; I guess that was more of a recon­naissance type of thing.”

The members of the Original Nineteen were competing for missions both with one other and with their predecessors still in the corps, a compe­tition made even tighter by the cancellation of Apollo missions 18 though 20. “I was very much disappointed that the last three missions to the moon were canceled—I thought I had a chance of making one of those missions,” Weitz said.

While there may not have been much overt competition among the Group 5 astronauts for the remaining Apollo berths, Weitz said, “It became obvious that some of the folks were doing their best to position themselves to punch the right cards to be considered for early flights. But everyone wanted to fly as soon as possible, and I think that no one was consciously considering giv­ing up on Apollo-era flights so that they might get an early Shuttle flight.”

Though he had been disappointed with the cancellation of the last three Apollo missions, Weitz said that he was pleased with his eventual rookie assignment. “I really enjoyed flying Skylab with Pete and Joe, and I thought we did our part to further the benefits of human space research.”

Jack Lousma said, “I was a little naive. I wasn’t a politician; I’d never been in a political organization. I just figured, the harder I work, the better I do. That wasn’t good for this particular system, but I wasn’t smart enough to know that. Moreover, I didn’t know anybody when I came. A lot of the oth­er guys had worked with each other on different projects in the Air Force and things, and I was just kind of a lone ranger. And I was the youngest guy selected, most junior, least experienced. So it seemed as though the people that had more experience, were a little bit older, or had done differ­ent things than I had were selected before me. Like Fred Haise was selected for the Lunar Module. Ed Mitchell worked on that. They were senior guys. And Fred was such a competent guy in aviation. So I was just going to do my best and work as hard as I could and see what happened, and if it came to a point where I had to be more overt about this, I would have felt that I’d earned the right to speak up.

“There was some amount of politics to the system of selection, but for the most part I felt that Deke Slayton was a fair guy, and I thought he selected the right people for the right job. I felt that everybody there was qualified to handle any mission that would come their way, but I felt that the selec­tions as Deke made them were fair. He would come in and assign maybe two crews for a couple of Apollo flights, assign a backup crew, make a few guys happy and a lot of guys mad. But he would always say, ‘And if you don’t like that, I’ll be glad to change places with you.’ And nobody could refute that. ’Cause poor old Deke, he still hadn’t flown at all.”

Lousma was one of the members of Group 5 who reached a point where he was confident the moon was within his grasp, only to have it snatched away. Upon joining the corps he had originally been put on a different track as one of the first members of his class to be assigned to Apollo Applica­tions rather than to Apollo. Even before he had completed his initial astro­naut training, Lousma was tapped to work on an instrument for one of the lunar-orbit aap flights that was planned at the time. Lousma had come to the astronaut corps from a background in military reconnaissance, and so was a perfect fit for the project, which involved using a classified Air Force high-resolution reconnaissance camera attached to an orbiting Apollo cap­sule to study the surface of the moon.

After Lousma had spent a year working on that project, however, the planned mission was canceled, and he was back to square one. It seemed, though, that fortune was smiling on him. Fred Haise, who had been the corps’ lead for Lunar Module testing and checkout, had been assigned to the backup crew for Apollo 11, which meant he would then be rotating up to prime a few flights later. (Under the standard rotation, Haise would have been Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 14, but Alan Shepard’s return to active flight status bumped the original 14 crew up to Apollo 13.) The corps need­ed someone to take the Lunar Module assignment that Haise had vacat­ed, and at the same time Lousma needed a new ground assignment. The fit was perfect.

While serving as Lunar Module support crew for Apollo 9 and 10, Lous – ma was also scrounging time in the lander simulator whenever he could. “By the time all of that was said and done, I had seven hundred hours in the Lunar Module simulator, plus all the knowledge that went with the systems of how the lunar module worked,” Lousma said. “Al Bean, when he flew, wanted the Lunar Module malfunction procedures revised, so I did that for him. I knew how this thing worked. So I figured I was probably destined for a Lunar Module mission.

“Before they canceled the last three missions, as I recall there was a cadre of fifteen guys that all worked together to somehow populate the last three missions; and some of them were guys that had flown already, and some of them weren’t. Once it got to this cadre of fifteen guys, I don’t remember there being any politics there. I wasn’t involved if there was. I was just real­ly focused on doing the best I could and qualifying on my own. I felt I was ready to do it. I was not a political person. I don’t think Deke was much of a political person at all. He was somewhat predictable in that the guys who had been there the longest were going to fly first. And in that group of peo­ple, probably the guys that were going to fly first were a little bit more senior, militarily speaking, and I was a junior guy; I was twenty-nine years old.

“That’s the way Deke worked. I think Jerry Carr would have flown to the moon before me. Jerry was senior to me in the Marines, so I’m not going to fly before him. The way it worked out on Skylab was I ended up flying before Jerry. And to offset that, Deke assigned Jerry to be the command­er, not just the ride-along guy on the third Skylab mission. That’s the way his mind worked. So to some extent, he was kind of predictable for people who were coming up through the ranks. He was kind of unpredictable for guys who had already flown. So there was probably more politics between those guys than there was between me and my friends. Deke never wanted much politics, I don’t think.

“I don’t know if I’d have been going to the moon or not, but there were three flights there for which I was eligible, and I was a Lunar Module-trained guy, so I thought I was definitely going on one of them.”

But, of course, it was not to be. The final three planned Apollo missions were canceled and with them went the hopes of Lousma and the others that they might reach the moon. With those missions canceled, Skylab became the next possible ticket to space for the unflown members of Group 5 (and their Group 4 predecessors). But even after the nine Skylab astronauts were told they had been assigned to the flights, some still had a sense of uncer­tainty, particularly in the wake of the cancellation of the last three Apol­lo flights.

“The Skylab missions were always threatened to not fly for a long long time,” Lousma said. “It was never sure until the last six months or a year that the Skylab was going to get to fly. There were those that said, ‘Let’s save the money and put it in the Shuttle.’ So I always felt like I could lose that Sky – lab mission, even when I was training for it.

“Somehow I found out that there was probably going to be a flight with the Russians and probably Tom Stafford was going to command that. May­be it was common knowledge, maybe it wasn’t. But I decided that if Sky – lab doesn’t fly, I’m going to be ready for the next thing. So I went while I was training for Skylab and took a one-semester course in the Russian lan­guage, took the exams and documented it and all that sort of thing, turned it in with my records, and said, ‘Here you go, Deke, in case you’re looking for a guy to go on the Russian flight, well, I’ve got a little head start on the language thing.’ It turns out that before we went on the Skylab mission I knew I was going to be on the backup crew for the Russian flight. It didn’t matter then, because Skylab was going, so backup was okay. But I remem­ber being concerned about Skylab not flying.”

Lousma said he is frequently asked if he felt that Skylab was a poor conso­lation prize for the lunar flight he missed out on. “ ‘Going on a space station mission instead of going to the moon, did you feel bad about it?’ Heck no, I didn’t,” he said. “I thought any ride was a good ride. And I felt that there weren’t that many rides to go around, so this was going to be all right. But moreover, we were doing things that hadn’t been done before. This is what I

think the lure was for most of our guys, to do things that hadn’t been done. All the things that Apollo did, we became operationally competent in.

“We knew we could fly in space. The question was, could we survive in space for long periods of time in weightlessness, and moreover could we do useful work. [Skylab] proved that this could be done, and it also demon­strated that evas in zero-gravity were doable if you were properly trained and had the right equipment and had been properly prepared. And we didn’t really know that either.”

The term “zero-G” is frequently used to indicate when things appear to be “weightless.” When flying in space, crewmembers do feel weightless, and they really are, but not because there isn’t any gravity at their altitude, about 435 km (270 miles) above the Earth for Skylab. In fact, the force of Earth’s gravity is about 87 percent as strong there as it is on the ground. The essential difference is that on Skylab the crews were in what physicists call “free-fall,” meaning that there was nothing to support their weight, like the ground or a chair. Instead, they were falling freely toward the center of the Earth, our “center of gravity,” just like a diver or a gymnast does until they hit water or the ground. So to be more precise, the free-fall toward the Earth’s cen­ter is the source of the apparent weightlessness in space. Space flyers do not hit the Earth because they are traveling so fast that their orbit just matches the curvature of the Earth and the Earth’s surface drops away from beneath them just as quickly as they fall toward it. When “zero-g” is used to mean weightlessness, this is what the correct explanation should be.

While in-space evas had been carried out successfully in the final Gemi­ni flights and then in Apollo, Lousma noted that they were nothing like the spacewalks performed during Skylab. The Skylab spacewalks were much longer and, unlike the earlier carefully planned and prepared spacewalks, involved responding to situations as they occurred.

“We were the first real test of whether you could have a useful space lab­oratory, and you could do scientific experiments of all sorts that we never did in Apollo, and get useful data back, and investigate things that had not been investigated before,” Lousma said. “I didn’t get to go to the moon, but I got to do something which was one-of-a-kind, first of a kind, to demon­strate all of those things that we were wanting to know and had to learn to go to the next step, and that’s the one that we’re going to take in the next couple of decades. From that point of view, I think Skylab is NASA’s best –

kept secret. We learned so many things that we didn’t know, and we did so many things for the first time.”

Like most of the members of the early groups of astronauts, Jerry Carr’s path to becoming an astronaut began with a love of aeronautics developed in his youth. For Carr, who was born in 1932 and raised in Santa Ana, Califor­nia, that interest was first spurred during World War 11, when he would spot airplanes, including experimental aircraft flying overhead through the south­ern California sky. He and a friend would ride bicycles fourteen miles to the airport on Saturdays, where they would spend the entire morning washing airplanes. In compensation for his efforts, he would be paid with a twenty – minute flight. During his senior year in high school, he became involved in the Naval Reserve. He was assigned to a fighter jet and was given the respon­sibility of keeping it clean and checking the fuel and fluid levels.

After high school Carr attended the University of Southern California through the Naval rotc and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engi­neering in 1954. Following his graduation, Carr became a Marine aviator. After five years of service, he was selected for the Naval Postgraduate School, where he earned a second bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1961. Carr was then sent to Princeton University and earned a master’s degree in the same field a year later.

Three years later, he saw the announcement that NASA was seeking can­didates for its fifth group of astronauts. He made the decision to apply on a whim. He was friends with C. C. Williams, who had been selected in the third group of astronauts in 1963. Carr figured if Williams could make it, he was curious to see how far through the process he could go. On April Fool’s Day in 1966, Carr learned just how far he had gone when he received a call from Capt. Alan Shepard informing him that he had been selected to the astronaut corps.

Jack Lousma wasn’t always going to be a pilot. Sure, Lousma, who was born in 1936 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, loved airplanes as a kid, building mod­els and going out to watch them land and take off. And he had two cousins who were pilots and still remembers the time one of them flew a jet over his farm so low “I could almost see his eyeballs,” as he recalled in a NASA oral his­tory interview. But Lousma wasn’t always going to be a pilot. Through high school and into college, he planned to be a businessman. However, during his sophomore year, he says, he decided he just couldn’t figure the business classes out and decided to get into engineering. And as long as he was going into engineering, he did love airplanes, and the University of Michigan did have a great aeronautical engineering program.

While completing his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, though, he saw a lot of movie footage of fast-flying jet airplanes. And so he decided the best thing for an engineer who planned to design planes to do would be to learn to fly them. After being turned down by the Air Force and Navy because he was married, he found out that the Marines not only had air­planes, they had a program that would take married people. After complet­ing his training and deciding he wanted to make a career of the Marines, he went on to attend the Naval Postgraduate School, earning a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.

Lousma had reached the point where he was starting to look for new chal­lenges when he heard that NASA was selecting its fifth group of astronauts, and he decided that fit the bill perfectly. His application process was near­ly cut short, however, by a requirement that candidates not be over six feet tall. According to his last flight physical, Lousma was 6 feet i. The Marines Corps, which screened his astronaut application, agreed to give him a “spe­cial measurement” by his flight surgeon. This one came out to 5 feet, 11 7/8 inches. “I was really 5 foot, 13 inches, but I didn’t tell anybody,” he joked.

Garriott notes that at the time of their Skylab flight, Lousma had only had nine birthdays, having been born on 29 February. “But ‘the Marine’ acts in a much more mature manner, and if there ever was a true ‘All Amer­ican Boy’ in a quite positive sense, this is your man,” he said.

Bill Pogue also was fascinated by airplanes in his youth but like Lousma had plans for his life that did not include being a pilot. Fate, however, had other plans, and Pogue ended up thrust into following his childhood fasci­nation. Born in 1930 in Okemah, Oklahoma, Pogue planned during high school and college to be a high-school math or physics teacher, following in his father’s schoolteacher footsteps. Pogue earned a bachelor’s degree in edu­cation at Oklahoma Baptist University. After the Korean War broke out, though, Pogue decided it looked like he was going to be drafted and enlist­ed in the Air Force. He was sent to flight-training school and then to Korea, where he was a fighter bomber pilot. In the six weeks before the armistice, he flew a total of forty-three missions, bombing trains and providing air support for troops.

An assignment to leave Korea to serve as a gunnery instructor at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona, proved to be fortuitous when after two years there he was asked to join a recently formed group based at Luke—the Thunderbirds air demonstration unit.

When he left the Thunderbirds, Pogue was given his choice of assignment, and he asked to be allowed to earn his master’s degree. He was reassigned to Oklahoma State University, where he earned his master’s in mathematics. About halfway through a five-year tour of duty as a math instructor at the Air Force Academy, he successfully petitioned to be allowed to work toward a goal of becoming an astronaut. He attended the Empire Test Pilot School in England. After completing that, he spent a couple more years there and then transferred to Edwards Air Force Base. Before he even moved there, however, he learned that NASA was selecting a new group of astronauts, and from his first day at Edwards, he was already working to leave Edwards to join NASA.

Unlike Lousma and Pogue, Paul Weitz did always want to be a pilot. Spe­cifically, Weitz, born in 1932 in Erie, Pennsylvania, wanted to be a pilot for the Navy. His father was a chief petty officer in the Navy and during World War II was in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Coral Sea. That made a deep impression on Weitz, and by the time he was around eleven, he had decided he was going to be a naval aviator.

Toward that end he attended Penn State on a Navy rotc scholarship, completing his time there with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engi­neering and a commission as an ensign. An instructor there advised Weitz that if he wanted to make the Navy a career, he should begin by going to sea, so he spent a year and a half on a destroyer before going to flight train­ing. From there he spent four years with a squadron in Jacksonville, Flori­da, where he met Alan Bean.

The next few years of Weitz’s life were not necessarily as he would have planned them. After initially being turned down for test-pilot school, he was accepted for the next class but not until he had already been ordered across the country for an air development squadron. Since the Navy had just moved him from one coast to the other, they refused to move him back for test-pilot school. At last after two years he received unsolicited orders to attend the Naval Postgraduate School, where he was in the same group as Jack Lous – ma and Ron Evans, who went on to be the Command Module pilot for the Apollo 17 mission. Further complicating the situation, Weitz found him­self allowed only two years at a school where a master’s degree was a three – year program. With the aid of sympathetic professors, he was able to earn his master’s in aeronautical engineering in the two years he had.

The next year, he made a combat tour in Vietnam. While in the west­ern Pacific, he got a message from the Bureau of Naval Personnel asking if he would like to apply to be an astronaut. Though Weitz had never given the matter any thought before, he decided that he would, indeed, like to be an astronaut.

Those nine men would make up the crews of the three Skylab missions. Pete Conrad and Al Bean, the two veteran astronauts, became the commanders of the first two Skylab crews. Conrad was joined by pilot Paul Weitz and science pilot Joe Kerwin. Bean’s crew consisted of himself, pilot Jack Lous – ma, and science pilot Owen Garriott. Rookie Jerry Carr was assigned as the commander for the third crew, joined by pilot Bill Pogue and science pilot Ed Gibson.

One veteran and five rookies made up the backup crews for the three Skylab missions. Rusty Schweickart, the Lunar Module pilot for the Earth – orbit Apollo 9 mission, was the commander of the backup crew for the first mission, joined by pilot Bruce McCandless and science pilot Story Mus – grave. Commander Vance Brand, pilot Don Lind and science pilot Bill Lenoir (Lenoir and Musgrave were members of the second group of scien­tist astronauts NASA selected) served as the backup crew for both the second and third Skylab missions.

The first crew chose for their mission patch an image depicting the Earth eclipsing the sun, with a “top-down” view of a silhouetted Skylab in the fore­ground. The patch was designed by science-fiction artist Kelly Freas.

The second crew’s patch, with a red, white, and blue color scheme, fea­tured Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man drawing of the human form in front of a circle, half of which showed the western hemisphere of the Earth, and the other half depicted the sun, complete with solar flares. The patch reflected the three main goals of their mission—biomedical research, Earth observation, and solar astronomy.

The Group 5 Rookies

7- (Clockwisefrom top left) The Skylab i mission patch, the Skylab 11 patch, the Skylab 11 “wives’ patch,” and the Skylab ill patch.

The third crew’s patch featured a prominent digit “3” with a rainbow semi­circle joining it to enclose three round areas. In those three areas were depic­tions of a human silhouette, a tree, and a hydrogen atom. The imagery on the patch symbolized man’s role in the balance of technology and nature.

There was one other Skylab “mission patch,” a companion to the second crew’s patch. The wives of the three Skylab 11 astronauts had been involved in the creation of that mission’s patch, and decided they wanted to do some­thing a little extra. Working with local artist Ardis Settle, who had contrib­uted to the official patch, and French space correspondent Jacques Tiziou, they created their own Skylab 11 “wives’ patch.” The central male nude fig­ure drawn by Leonardo had been replaced with a similar but much more attractive female nude and the crew names altered to Sue, Helen Mary, and Gratia.

“One of our first tasks when reaching orbit was to unpack our ‘flight data file,’ carried up in our csm [Command Service Module],” Garriott said. “What we did not expect to see when we unpacked our individual ‘small change sheets’ and ‘check lists’ was a new crew patch with a much more memorable female nude in the center!”

“A very pleasant ‘gotcha’!

It is important to note that there are two different systems of nomenclature for the Skylab flights. During the planning phase for the program, there was debate as to whether the unmanned launch of the Skylab workshop should be numbered as one of the flights or whether only the three crewed missions should be counted. Ultimately, it was decided that the launch of the station would be numbered; it would be Skylab i, and the three manned flights would be 2, 3, and 4.

That decision, however, had not yet been made at the time that the crew patches were designed and ordered, so the flight suits were produced bear­ing patches marking the three manned missions as Skylab 1, 11, and ill. As a result, both numbering systems were used in different places. Frequently, the former system is written using Arabic numerals, and sometimes with the two-letter mission abbreviation used for Skylab, thus sl-i through SL-4. The latter system is generally written with roman numerals and almost exclusive­ly with Skylab written out, thus Skylab 1 through Skylab ill.

For the purposes of this book, we abide by the conventions of using Arabic numerals, and generally the “sl” abbreviation, when using the former system and of using roman numerals for the latter system. However, to the greatest extent possible, we have avoided using either, referring to the missions with less-ambiguous terminology (“the first crew’s mission,” for example).

Pogue explained the numbering system for their mission: “When the Skylab crews were announced in 1971, the prime crews set about designing their mission insignia or ‘patch’ as it was usually called. The missions were officially designated as Skylab 1, for the unmanned launch of Skylab on the Saturn v, and Skylabs 2, 3, and 4 for the three manned visits, which were launched on Saturn IBs.

“That seemed simple enough, but mischief was not long in coming. We began receiving flight training and procedures documents labeled slm-i, slm-2, and SLM-3 for the three Skylab manned missions. Other documents were labeled sl-2, SL-3, and SL-4, which conformed to the official mission designations. We began receiving mail and documents clearly meant for one of the other crews and the astronaut office mailroom became as bewildered, confused, and uncertain as the rest of us.

“In the meantime we had designed our mission patches incorporating the official numeric designations of Skylab 2, 3, and 4. During a visit by the NASA headquarters director of the Skylab Program, Pete Conrad asked him, “Are we i, 2, and 3 or are we 2, 3, and 4”? He said, “You are i, 2, and 3”. All of us went back to designing new patches to incorporate the numerals i, 2, and 3. Skylab і and 2 used Roman numerals and Jerry, Ed, and I used the Ara­bic numeral 3. The designs were rendered by artists and sent to NASA head­quarters for approval. The whole process took several months, and the art­work didn’t arrive at NASA headquarters until about six months before the scheduled launch of the Skylab.

“The associate administrator for Manned Space Flight took one look at the artwork and disapproved the design because he said the official flight designations, ‘2, 3, and 4’ were to be used. Thus informed, we dug out our original designs (2, 3, and 4) and were in the process of getting the artwork done when we were informed by headquarters “not to bother.” We could use the designs for i, 2, and 3. Then we found out why the change of heart.

“The people who had manufactured the Skylab flight clothing (to be worn onboard) had already completed their work several weeks earlier in order to get the clothes packaged and shipped to the Cape to meet their deadline for stowage onboard Skylab, which was already in prelaunch pro­cessing. Furthermore, they had already used the designs submitted earli­er for the mission patches. They didn’t have time in their schedule to wait for official approval. The designs using the numeric designation i, 2, and 3 became approved by default because items with these patches were already manufactured and stowed in Skylab lockers at the Cape. Removing them for patch change-out was considered much too expensive and disruptive during launch preparations.

“So, although officially designated as Skylab 2, 3, and 4, the mission insig­nias bear the numeric designations as follows: Skylab 2 (Roman numeral i), Skylab 3 (Roman numeral ii), and Skylab 4 (Arabic numeral 3). When trav­eling in Afghanistan in 1975, I presented some Afghan VIPs with our Skylab

4 mission patch. One lady looked thoroughly confused and asked about the numeral 3 on the Skylab 4 patch. I gave her this long-winded explanation, and by the time I finished, the Afghans were roaring with laughter.

“Today it is especially confusing to autograph collectors who still scratch their heads trying to sort out their trophies.”

Getting Ready to Fly

Joe Kerwin recalled: “Here’s the story about my first brush with Skylab: One day in January 1966, Al Shepard said, ‘Kerwin and Michel, I want you to go out to the Douglas plant in California. Marshall’s working on an idea of using the inside of an s-ivb fuel tank as an experimental space station.’ So we called out to Ellington for a T-38 jet and flew to Huntington Beach. At the plant they made us put on bunny suits and slippers, then showed us to the end hatch of a freshly manufactured s-ivb lying on its side. The hatch had been removed, leaving an opening about forty inches in diame­ter into the fuel tank.

“We noted that the hatch was secured with seventy-two large bolts. ‘How will the astronauts remove it in flight?’ we asked. ‘We’ll give you a wrench,’ they replied. We climbed into the tank. It was big enough, all right—about thirty feet long and twenty feet in diameter. It was empty except for a long metal tube along one side—the ‘propellant utilization probe’—and a cou­ple of basketball-sized helium tanks. There was a faint chemical smell com­ing from the fiberglass, which covered the interior. It felt like standing in the bare shell of what was going to be a home someday after the builders had finished with it.

“‘What would we do in here,’ we asked. ‘You can fly around in your suits.’ Perhaps you’ll test a rocket backpack. (That was prophetic.) And Marshall was even considering a plan to pressurize the tank with oxygen, so we could remove our spacesuits. That was a start!

“Curt had a conversation with the project rep about what experiments could and would be performed. After our return to Houston, he wrote Al a memo which likened the experiment selection process to ‘filtering sand through chicken wire.’ We were both inexperienced, glad to have some­thing to do, and skeptical. I did not dream that seven years later I’d spend a month inside that tank, in space.”

Getting Ready to Fly

8. Joe Kerwin tests the vestibular-function experiment during Skylab preparations.

From a crew perspective, the development of the Skylab space station and the training of the astronauts who would live there are in many ways the same story. Usability is a primary concern in developing new space hard­ware. To ensure usability engineers would turn to the people who would be using that hardware. Throughout the development of Skylab, crewmem­bers would be brought in to give input on hardware as it was being designed and tested. So in many cases, they learned to use the equipment by helping its designers make it usable. Crew involvement began early in the develop­ment with the first Apollo Applications Program assignments being made in the astronaut office years before the first moon landing.

“Of course, those were early days for Skylab, and we’d looked at a tiny sample of ‘bottom-up’ planning, while the ‘top-down’ planning was tak­ing place elsewhere and would answer a lot of our questions,” Kerwin said. “ ‘Elsewhere’ was largely at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Not long after our trip to Huntington Beach, I was invited to observe a meeting between a visiting delegation from Marshall and msc managers. The Marshall peo­ple gave a briefing on their plans for the ‘Apollo Applications Program,’ as it was then called. They sketched several missions on an ambitious sched­ule and asked for operations and training participation. The msc managers

basically said, ‘That’s great, but we’re busy going to the moon.’ So the team from Marshall left, saying over their shoulders, ‘This is going to happen!’ And so it did. It was still seven years from launch, but activity got started, and astronauts began to participate. We all had various assignments then, supporting Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab, and they changed fairly often, but Skylab began to take more and more of my time and attention.”

Kerwin recalls standing around with a group of colleagues one evening in 1967 in the mockup building at msfc. Someone had drawn with chalk a big circle on the floor, twenty feet in diameter, representing a cross section of the s-ivb tank. In the circle the astronauts worked with Marshall engi­neers on deciding how best to arrange the sleeping, eating, bathroom, and experiment quarters. “Al Bean was our leader at that time, and Paul Weitz, Owen Garriott, Ed Gibson, and a few other astronauts were there too, with several engineers,” Kerwin said. “We had a great time and began to devel­op a friendly relationship with that s-ivb fuel tank.”

In the earliest days of the Apollo Applications Program, the astronauts working with the program were a loosely defined group, with members rotat­ing in and out as they began and completed projects for other programs. While the official flight crew rosters were not announced to the public until 18 January 1972, the group from which the assignments were made had been assembled about two years earlier.

“Pete Conrad had just come off his Apollo 12 flight, which was Novem­ber ’69, so this had to be around January or February of 1970 when Slayton came into a pilots’ meeting on a Monday morning,” Kerwin said in a NASA oral history interview. “He had a sheet of paper in his hand. He said, ‘The following people are now formally assigned to crew training and mission development for the Skylab program.’ He read the names of fifteen people. He didn’t say who was prime, who was backup, who was what mission or anything else. All he said was that Conrad was going to be ‘Sky King’; he was in charge, and he would tell us all what he wanted us to do.”

The list included not only the nine astronauts that would make up the Skylab prime crews—Conrad, Kerwin, Weitz, Bean, Garriott, Lousma, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue—but also the six astronauts who would form the back­up crews. “We had no idea what that list meant,” Kerwin said. “There was a lot of speculation going on about who was going to be on what mission. There were fifteen of us, which meant that there were three prime crews, but only two backup crews. So somebody was going to have double duty as a backup crew it looked like unless the first prime was going to be the last backup. Deke didn’t say. Deke was not a man of many words. He didn’t say more than he thought was necessary at the time. It turned out, again in ret­rospect, that the way he had read that list was first prime, first backup, sec­ond prime, second backup, third prime, exactly in order.”

In April 1971, “Sky King” Pete Conrad sent a memo to all of his “Skytroops” specifying who would be responsible for what. He made the assignments based on experience and on equalizing both the training and the in-flight workload.

The commander (cdr) would have overall responsibility for the flight plan and training; he’d also be responsible for the Apollo space­craft systems and spacewalks. Estimated training hours: 1,411.

The science pilot (spt) would be responsible for medical and atm hardware and experiments and would be the second spacewalk crewman (in the end all three crewmen trained to make space­walks). Estimated training hours: 1,500.

The pilot (plt) would be responsible for airlock, mda (Multiple Dock­ing Adapter), and workshop systems and for the Earth Resources Experiment Package (erep) hardware and experiments. Esti­mated training hours: 1,420.

Each of the fifteen men on the prime, backup, and support crews was also assigned specific experiments and hardware. This was as much for the benefit of the rest of the training, engineering, and flight operations world as for the astronauts themselves; it meant other organizations knew which astronaut to call to get an office position on a procedure or a hardware change. To keep those calls from becoming too much of a burden, train­ing managers were assigned to the crews to help organize their schedules. “Bob Kohler was our crew training manager, an energetic but calm man able to steer us through the months of competition for our precious time,” Kerwin recalls. “I think we burned him out; he left NASA after Skylab and became an optometrist.”

The activity planning guide Kohler put together for the first crew for April and May of 1973 was typically busy. “We’d already done our multiple-day on-orbit simulations and were now concentrating on launch, rendezvous, and entry integrated sims (‘integrated’ meant the simulations included full Mission Control participation),” Kerwin said. “Saturdays were full, but we had most Sundays for family, unless we were traveling. There were more and more medical entries: exams, blood drawing, and final preflight data runs of the various experiments. Saturday, April 24 was listed as ‘Crew Por­trait Day—flight gear?—check with Conrad.’ It was all a blur. Sometimes things happened on schedule, but often not. I have a handwritten sheet of paper from March of 1972 that says the following:

3/6/72: Joe—miff Interface Test has slipped to Saturday, per Dick Truly. Bob Kohler.

Joe— it slipped back to Friday—keep checking! Richard.

Friday it is—as of 3/7/72. Kohler.

Would you believe Monday the 13th—Kohler—3/8.

3/10: cancelled until further notice. ”

After the first crew launched, Kohler put together the sl-2 Crew Train­ing Summary, showing exactly how many hours each of the three astro­nauts had actually spent in trainers and simulators during the two years of “official” crew training. Conrad had the least, at 2,151 hours, but he’d been on three spaceflights already. Kerwin was next with 2,437 hours, and Weitz had the most at 2,506 hours. Those times don’t count the many hours they spent flying, in meetings, reviewing the checklists, and trying to memo­rize all the switch locations and functions—the “homework” that had to be done to prepare for the simulator work. (“This would explain why none of your children recognized you after the flight,” joked Kerwin’s daughter, Sharon.)

Another of the activities on the busy astronauts’ schedule was space­craft checkout. “In early June of 1972, we strapped into our T-38s and hus­tled to St. Louis, to the McDonnell Aircraft plant, where the flight Dock­ing Adapter had been mated to the flight Airlock Module and was waiting for final checkout [McDonnell had merged with Douglas Aircraft in April of 1967],” Kerwin said. “The next morning, June 6, we briefed, put on our bunny suits and slippers, and entered the flight unit. Outside was a large team of McDonnell engineers led by the test director. Every switch throw

was in the test plan, and its effects would be watched and measured.

“The test was scheduled for twelve hours, but we accomplished it in half that time, flying from panel to panel and reporting over the intercom, ‘Rog­er. . . in work. . . complete.’ The spacecraft was clean, beautiful, and com­pletely functional. We felt that industry had finally learned how to build them and test them, and we partied that night at the motel with our con­tractor teammates.”

There seemed to be no limit to the tasks requiring the crews’ attention during the period of the station’s development and their training, every­thing from the overseeing the functional requirements for the triangle shoes to fighting with the Public Affairs Office over television shows on Skylab. (The astronauts weren’t opposed to doing them, but they’d had no training and there was no time in the flight plan for them.) And of course an astro­naut wouldn’t want to find himself heading out for a spacewalk if, while on the ground, he hadn’t customized the fit and comfort of his ucta—the urine collection and transfer assembly worn under the spacesuits. One could change the location of the Velcro, add a snap, wear a suitably perforated ath­letic supporter, and wear the ucta over or under the liquid cooling garment. Then there was the task of designing, and redesigning, the crew clothing to be worn in-flight.

“Testing and modifying the clothing was fun, although it dragged out a bit because clothing was a matter of both requirements and personal tastes,” Kerwin said. The following excerpts from a series of internal memos exem­plify this:

To: cb/All Skylab Astronauts From: cb /Alan Bean Subject: Skylab Clothing

a) Would it not be better to remove the knitted cuffs completely from our Skylab flight suits, since it looks like the temperature will be warmer most of the time than we would desire? [That was a prescient guess by AH]

b) There seems to be a difference in philosophy as to what constitutes proper uni­form for the “cool Beta Angle" and the “warm Beta Angle" on the Skylab mis­sion. [Beta Angle was essentially the angle between Skylab s orbit and the sun; it varied with the season and determined how much ofeach orbit was spent in sun­light.] For the warm case our only option is to take off some of the cool weather garments. Taking off the jacket is all right because we end up with a cool polo shirt. However, if we wanted to take offour pants, we end up standing around in our underwear. I don’t personally have anything against running around in my underwear, I do it all the time at home; but it would be better to at least have something more military in appearance planned for the warm case.. ..

To: cb/Skylab Astronauts

From: cb /Joe Kerwin

Subject: Al Bean’s Clothing Memo

a) The knit cuffs are there to retain the sleeves and trouser legs under zero-g. They can be snipped offby a crewman at his option. Recommend they be retained, as a better military appearance will result.

b) The “warm weather uniform" question was a good one. . . . Unfortunately, all the clothing will be up there before we know the answer. We looked, briefly, at bermuda shorts last fall, and nobody thought they were needed…. Alterna­tively, we can ask Crew Systems Division to engineer the longiesfor easy cutting off. Pete, you decide. (Incidentally, AdmiralZumwaltsays we can wear frayed pants in the wardroom now.)

c) Lip buttons will be providedfor complainers.

To: cb /Skylab Astronauts From: GeraldP. Carr

Subject: Skylab Clothing (Another shot across Medinaut’s bow) (that’s Kerwin)

a) Agree that the cuffs make the suit a bit too warm, but Joe’s answer is fine. We can snip them out if they get too warm.

b) . . . I have no objection to making my own Bermuda shorts out of a “cold case" set ofclothing

c) Disagree with Joe’s proposal for lip buttons. Zippers or Velcro are much more appropriate in the space biz.

Eventually, the Skylab astronauts all agreed on a clothing set. It con­tained cotton T-shirts for warm-weather wear and provisioned a change of underwear every two days and of outerwear once a week. The outerwear was made of a fireproof cloth, polybenzemidazole (called pbi; “We couldn’t pronounce it either,” quipped Kerwin) that only came in a golden brown. But it was comfortable. Rejected were the proposed small-bore fiberglass (called “beta cloth”) items, which itched.

On the lighter side, the crewmembers all got to pick the music for tape cas­settes they would carry with them on the mission. Each would have a small tape player, with Velcro on it to attach to a handy wall so that they could accompany their various experiment chores with music. For example, on the first crew, Conrad was a huge fan of country; his cassettes featured the Statler Brothers, Lynn Anderson, and other favorites. Kerwin liked classical; some of his favorites were Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. He also snuck in a few folk songs recorded by his brother, Ed. Weitz’s selections proved popular with his entire crew— Richard Rodgers’s Victory at Sea, the Mills Brothers, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams, and the Ink Spots. Selecting the music was one of those last-minute chores like completing the guest list for our launch,” Kerwin said. “It felt good; we were getting close.”

Of course, not all Skylab training took place in the relatively comfort­able confines of NASA centers and contractor locations. For example, as with Apollo, the Skylab crews went through training to prepare them for the contingency of an “off-nominal” reentry that could return them to Earth far from where they were supposed to land. “Although they never had to be used, the water egress, and desert and jungle training were lots of fun,” sec­ond crew science pilot Owen Garriott said.

The jungle training took place in Panama under the guidance of local Choco Indians. “They were expert trackers and, of course, knew the jungle as their own backyard,” Garriott said. “We were given an hour or so head start and told to evade capture and meet some twenty-four to forty-eight hours later on the beach some distance away.

“We all took off in groups of three—I was with Tony England and Karl Henize—at a fast trot, trying to get as far away as possible before darkness descended. The Chocos would set out after us and try to ‘grab our hats,’ equivalent to a capture.

“We succeeded almost too well,” Garriott said. “We didn’t get ‘captured,’ but we ran for so long that it got dark before we had properly made camp. We hurriedly gathered sticks to try to make a lean-to to be covered with a nylon sheet and to make a fire from small pieces of wood, but the every-day rains made a fire impossible. But darkness and more showers arrived before we had anything like a dry shelter. That night has been long remembered as the most uncomfortable, mosquito-plagued night of my life.

“Of course, we had to have a graduation celebration (after we were all finally recovered) on the banks of the Panama Canal,” he continued. “Scien­tist astronaut Story Musgrave, always the adventuresome explorer, thought it would be fun to swim across the canal—in pitch darkness. So he stripped down and paddled off into the night, with numerous warnings about avoid­ing the alligators. In an hour or so, back he came, none the worse for any animal encounters.”

Ed Gibson also had a memorable experience during his survival train­ing. Despite all the challenges of living in the wild, Gibson decided the big­gest threat to his own survival was one of his own teammates. “People ask me what is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in the space program,” Gibson said. “Well, we went on a jungle survival trip, and I was out in the forest with Jack [Lousma] and Vance Brand. And after a couple of days or so, Jack was getting pretty hungry, and he kind of came up and started feel­ing my flesh. And I realized my objective for that whole time was to find enough food to feed him so I wouldn’t get eaten.”

Marshall’s Neutral Buoyancy Simulator

We kidded about, we may have a dry workshop on orbit, but you’re going to
go through a wet workshop in training, that being underwater.

Jim Splawn

Joe Kerwin recalled: “From, I’d guess, 1968 onward, we traveled ever more frequently to Huntsville—for engineering tests and design reviews, but more and more to do eva training in the new, bigger, and better water tank. I remember going there with Paul Weitz. We’d fly up together in a T-38. You’d take off from Ellington, point the nose to a heading of just a lit­tle north of east, climb to 17,500 feet, and go direct. We could make it in an hour if all went well. When we landed at Redstone Arsenal [the Army base in Huntsville on which Marshall is located], there’d be a rental car wait­ing, and we’d hustle off to the Tourway Motel; $7.50 with black and white TV, $ 8.50 with color.

“Bright and early the next morning we’d go to the neutral-buoyancy tank. That was always a professionally run organization and always a pleas­ant experience. We’d suit up in the dressing room, brief the test, and make our way up to ‘poolside’ and into quite a crowd—with divers, suit techni­cians, mockup engineers, and test personnel. Hook up the suit to commu­nications, air, and cooling water. Down the steps into the water. Then float passively while the divers ‘weighted us out.’ They did this by placing lead weights into various pockets to counteract the buoyancy of the air-filled spacesuit, until we were neither floating to the surface nor sinking to the bottom. I recall gazing idly up through the bubble-filled water to the bright lights above and imagining that I was a medieval knight, being hoisted on to my charger before the tournament.

“Then the two of us, each accompanied by a safety diver (ready to assist us instantly in case we lost air or developed a leak) would move over to the Skylab mockup, laid out full size in the forty-foot-deep water and practice film retrieval from the atm. We’d evaluate handrails and footholds, open­ing mechanisms and locks, how to manage the umbilicals, which trailed out behind us as we worked. After two or three hours we’d quit, return to the locker room, and debrief. It was wonderful training. By the time we launched, each of us could don and zip his own suit unassisted and move around in it with the same familiarity as a football player in his helmet and pads.”

The idea of neutral-buoyancy simulation of the microgravity environ­ment had arisen at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston before it was developed at Marshall, though neither center would implement the concept until the mid-1960s. Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter had proposed using a water tank for astronaut training early in the space program, but manage­ment did not pursue the idea at the time.

A water tank was constructed for astronaut training at msc, but not ini­tially for neutral-buoyancy work. Rather it was used to prepare astronauts for the end of their missions. Since Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights all con­cluded with water landings, the msc tank was used to rehearse the procedures that would be performed in recovery of the astronaut and spacecraft.

When Ed White made the first U. S. spacewalk in 1965 on the Gemini 4 mis­sion, his experience seemed to belie the need for intense training; for White, the worst part of the spacewalk was that it had to end. When Gene Cernan made the second American spacewalk the following year, however, his expe­rience was quite different. He found it difficult to maneuver, his faceplate

Marshall’s Neutral Buoyancy Simulator

9- Astronauts practice for spacewalks in the neutral-buoyancy tank.

fogged up, his pulse rate soared, and he got overheated. It was obvious that changes were needed in spacewalking technology and procedures, and that included training. The idea of neutral-buoyancy training was revisited and implemented in time to prepare Buzz Aldrin for his Gemini 12 spacewalk, five months after Cernan’s. With the changes that had been made and the intervening experience, things went far more smoothly for Aldrin’s attempt on the final Gemini flight. Underwater training continued during the Apol­lo program; spacesuits weighted past the point of neutral buoyancy allowed astronauts to simulate the one-sixth gravity of the lunar surface.

At Marshall neutral buoyancy development came about from a grass­roots initiative, at first as almost a hobby among some of the center’s young engineers in the mid-1960s. “Some of us young guys got to talking about, we really are going to be in space, and if you’re in space, you’re going to need to do work,” said Jim Splawn, who was the manager of space simulation at the Process Engineering Laboratory at Marshall. “And if you do work, how do you keep up with your tools? How do you train? So that started the discussion about how are you going to practice. How are you going to simulate the weightlessness of space? And we talked and talked for weeks, I guess, about that.

“And so one guy said, ‘Hey, have you ever watched your wife in the swim­ming pool?’ And we all giggled and said, ‘Yeah, you bet, we watch our wives and other wives too.’

“But he said, ‘No, no I’m serious. Have you ever looked at her hair while she’s underwater, how it floats?’ And that started a whole ’nother discussion, and so we said, ‘Well, why does it do that? It’s sort of neutrally buoyant—it doesn’t sink; it doesn’t necessarily float to the surface.’ So then we started talking about how we could do that. We started coming up with the idea then of going underwater. That was the first concept that we had, the first discussion about going underwater.”

The group thought the idea had potential and decided to use some of their free time to pursue it, and Marshall’s first neutral-buoyancy simula­tor was born. Of course official facilities and equipment require funding, so the first phases of their research relied on using whatever they had available. The first exercises were done in an abandoned explosive-forming pit. The pit had been used to create the rounded ends of Saturn I fuel tanks and was about six feet in diameter and about six feet deep. Initial dives were done in swimsuits until the group felt like they needed more duration underwater, at which point they began using scuba gear.

Their experiment was showing promise, and they were ready to graduate out of the six-foot-diameter tank. Once again, though, their almost non­existent budget forced them to make use of what was on hand, which was once again leftover Saturn hardware. The tank was based around an inter­stage for a Saturn rocket, the short, hollow cylinder that connects two boost­er stages together. “It was like a ring, probably twelve-feet vertical dimen­sion,” Splawn said. “So we had a backhoe, and dug a hole in the ground, and positioned the interstage and backfilled the dirt around it. And, guess what, we had a swimming pool now made out of excess Saturn hardware to become our next simulator for underwater work.”

The extra volume meant that they could take the next step in their under­water evaluation. Just as they had moved from swim trunks to scuba gear in the first tank, the second allowed them to move on to pressure suits, simu­lating the gear that astronauts would be wearing in orbital spacewalks.

“We had to go to Houston to try and get pressure suits,” Jim Splawn said. “Pressure suits in the mid – to late – 60s were few in number and of great demand and expensive and were very, very well protected by the Houston suit techs. So we took an alternate route; we contacted the Navy, and a cou­ple of us went to San Diego one Friday, worked with the Navy on Saturday, and they put us in high-altitude flying suits, and then they had huge over­size suitcases that they put these high-altitude pressure suits in, complete with gloves, helmet, everything, there. They trained us in a large swimming pool that they had; in fact, we had to jump off of diving boards into the water, and we took the helmets off, and we had to learn how to take a hoo­kah [breathing apparatus] for underwater diving, so they taught us how to get the helmet off and take the hookah and still survive. So anyway, they taught us how to do that, so then we flew home on Sunday afternoon; we brought back four pressure suits, just on commercial air. So that’s where we got our first pressure suits.”

The “hookah” is a rubber full-head covering that is used underwater, similar to scuba. Instead of coming from a tank, air is pumped down from the surface by a hose to maintain a certain airflow into the rubber “helmet,” regardless of the depth of the diver. It is particularly useful in tanks like Mar­shall’s neutral-buoyancy trainer because it allows voice communications to the surface. However, one must be careful to not turn upside down, as air goes out and water comes in.

Up until this point, Splawn said, Marshall and msc had not had any dis­cussions about the work each was doing on neutral buoyancy. “We had abso­lutely no interaction at all,” Splawn said. “We knew nothing at all about Houston and the type of simulations or training or anything else that they were doing. I really don’t know the timing between what Houston did and what we did. I just don’t have any data point there at all. Once it became known what we had and what we had done, there was competition, and some pretty heated discussions between Houston and us. But we ended up doing the crew training for Skylab.”

In fact the first astronauts came to check out the work when the team was still using the second tank. Alan Bean, at the time an unflown rookie, was one of the first astronauts to perform a pressure-suited dive in the interstage tank. It was also during the experimentation with the second tank that the team decided they could let the Marshall powers that be in on their work. Von Braun himself made a dive in a pressure suit to evaluate the potential of neutral-buoyancy simulation.

Bob Schwinghamer, who was the head of the Marshall materials lab,

recalled a nerve-wracking incident that occurred during one of Bean’s ear­ly visits. “I was safety diving, and I was floating around in front of him. He was in there unscrewing those bolts off of that hatch cover. And all at once, it said, ‘poof,’ and a big bubble came out from under his right arm, a stream of bubbles. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to drown this astro­naut.’” Schwinghamer said he attempted to cover the hole in Bean’s suit, but he could see the suit collapsing—first near Bean’s feet, then up to his knees, then his thighs. Since he didn’t have a communications system at that time, Schwinghamer left Bean and surfaced, and told the operators to give him more air.

“He never lost his cool,” Schwinghamer recalled. “By then, he wasn’t neu­trally buoyant anymore; he was about sixty pounds too heavy. So he walked across [the tank], and he just climbed up the ladder and got out. That’s all there was. And I said, ‘Oh my goodness, what if we had drowned an astro­naut?’ But he was just cool.”

Working with pressure suits complicated the situation. The pressure suits, representing spacesuits, were basically balloons containing divers. That meant the air caused the suits to tend to float. In order to make the suits neutral­ly buoyant, weight had to be added to balance out the effect of the air. This had to be done very carefully. Putting too much weight in one area would cause that area to sink more than the rest of the body, invalidating the sim­ulation of weightlessness.

“After many, many stop-and-go kind of activities, we settled in on a low – profile harness of small pockets of lead strips, so that we could move the lead about depending on the mass of the human body that’s inside the suit and consequently what kind of volume of air you had inside that suit,” Splawn said. “We could move the lead weights around until we could put the test subject or flight crewman into any position underwater and turn him loose, and he would stay there.

“We started offjust in a room, so in order to get some data points, we put the guy in the pressure suit and then lay him flat on the floor and tried to get him to lift his arms—Is the weight distributed?—and lift his legs—Is the weight sort of distributed correctly?” Splawn said. “And so we said, ‘ok, get up,’ and he couldn’t get up, he had so much weight on him. That was in the very early days.” Typically, he said, about seventy to eighty pounds of lead weights were needed to achieve neutral buoyancy. To make sure the weighted,

pressured-suited divers didn’t encounter any problems, each one was accom­panied by two safety divers who could help out in an emergency.

Once the team had enough experience in the interstage tank, they were confident that neutral buoyancy could be used for weightlessness simula­tion. They were ready to move on to the next step. “From that we gradu­ated to what we called the big tank,” Splawn said. “The big tank is seven­ty-five feet diameter; it’s forty feet deep; 1.3 million gallons of water as best I remember. It was complete with underwater lighting, underwater audio system, umbilicals that would be very much like the flight crew would use to do an eva on orbit.”

This tank, Marshall’s Neutral Buoyancy Simulator, was designed to take the work to the next level. Unlike previous facilities, which were experiments designed to evaluate the efficacy of neutral buoyancy as a microgravity ana­log, the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator was a working facility. The theory had been proven and now was being put into practice. The facility was designed to be large enough to submerge mock-ups of spacecraft in order to test how easily they could be operated in a weightless environment.

“We sort of had the vision of building a facility large enough to accom­modate some pretty large mock-ups of hardware, and it really proved out to be very, very beneficial,” Splawn said. “Because once we had the difficulty at the launch of the Skylab itself headed towards orbit, it really proved its worth because of all the hardware we had to assemble underwater.”

The origin of the “big tank” was rather unconventional. In order to has­ten the process of building the tank, Marshall leadership found a way to circumvent the bureaucratic requirements of creating a new facility. “The facility was not a ‘c of F,’ or construction of facilities type project,” Splawn explained. “There is a small tool tag that is on the side of the tank, and it has a number stamped on that tag, and so that designates the seventy-five – foot diameter tank as a portable tool. There were a lot of eyebrows raised at that.” While the tank was not technically secured into place, saying it was portable was somewhat of a stretch.

“I don’t really remember how that happened,” Splawn said. “I know there was great interest in having a facility, and we thought we had the right idea of how to simulate weightlessness and how to train. We needed a facility, and the schedule of when we needed it just could not be supported through the official construction of facilities kind of red tape that you had to go through to get a facility approved, and then all of that kind of business that occurs to acquire a facility. So that’s why we went this alternate route.”

As a result of the way the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator was built, many people elsewhere in the agency did not know what Marshall was doing until it had been done (as was the case with associate administrator George Muel­ler, who was not aware of the tank until his “wet workshop” dive).

“The tank was built in-house,” Splawn said. “We used the construction crew out of a test lab because they were equipped and they were accustomed to doing construction work. So the steel segments of the tank, of course, were rolled steel. They were shipped in, and then the government employ­ees welded the tanks together, and we installed all the systems, electronic, mechanical, filtration, all of that was worked internally.”

The tank attracted some unusual visitors, Splawn recalled: “It was very interesting to have some of the caliber people come through our area that came through. Of course, starting with von Braun—back when we had just first started the thinking and the dream of going underwater to do evaluations in a weightless environment, we found out that von Braun was a scuba diver. So once we had been through the early stages and thought we could sort of reveal our thoughts a little bit, we contacted his secretary, Bonnie, and told her we’d like to have Dr. von Braun come and see what we were doing.

“I guess the first time he ever knew anything about it, we were on the twenty-foot tank. He didn’t know about it up until about then. Because us bunch of young guys, what we would do is work our regular kind of work through the day, and then we would go out in the late evenings and play, and I say ‘play’ in quotes. But we would try to figure out just exactly what we were trying to do. We didn’t know if we had a cat in the bag or not. But we finally revealed the cat to Dr. von Braun and got him to come down, and he thought it was wonderful. He said, ‘Ja, ja, keep going, keep going.’

“I remember one day that von Braun had been to the Cape for a launch, and we got a call from his secretary again. Bonnie said, ‘Dr. von Braun has just called me from the Cape, and he is bringing a guest on the NASA air­craft back with him from the Cape to Huntsville, and they want to go to the neutral-buoyancy facility this afternoon, and this guy’s name is Jacques Cousteau, and can you accommodate him?’ And I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, we sure can.’

“So von Braun dressed out in swim trunks, and Jacques Cousteau dressed

out in swim trunks, and they went for a dive in scuba gear, and von Braun showed Jacques Cousteau some of the things that we were doing underwater, put him through a few paces with some of the hardware that we had mount­ed in the tank at that point in time. So it was sort of interesting.”

As an additional safety precaution, the Marshall facility also included a decompression chamber, which could be used if a diver surfaced too quick­ly. The medical term is “dysbarism”—Greek for “pressure sickness” — but to divers it’s simply the “bends.” Bends has affected divers since humans began to dive for pearls centuries ago. It doesn’t just happen underwater; workers building the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge a hundred feet beneath the surface of the East River developed the strange pains and dis­orientation of “caisson disease.” The doctor hired by the company to look into the problem noted with interest that the pains often went away when the men went back down to the diggings. But it was another twenty years before other doctors figured out what was happening.

When a diver descends in water, the water’s weight increases the pres­sure against the body; at thirty-three feet it’s double the pressure at the sur­face. In order to breathe, the pressure of the air the diver breathes also must increase. And that pressure drives nitrogen into the lungs, blood, and tis­sues. That’s not normally a problem; nitrogen is inert except at very high pressures, when it exerts a narcotic effect.

But if a diver ascends rapidly to the surface, the pressure suddenly dimin­ishes. Then the absorbed nitrogen reverses course and comes out of the tis­sues. The diver is able to breathe some of it out, but if the pressure was high, some of it forms bubbles in the blood and tissues, and these can have dan­gerous effects—bubbles compressing nerves in the joints cause bends, bub­bles blocking capillaries in the lungs cause chokes, bubbles in the blood ves­sels of the brain can mimic a stroke. To prevent these things, it’s essential to reduce the pressure on the body slowly enough to allow for “breathing out” the nitrogen without letting bubbles form.

The dives in Marshall’s tank never caused the astronauts to have any prob­lems. However, the recompression chamber was used once, Splawn said, for a Tennessee Valley Authority utility diver in the area who had been doing work underwater and surfaced too quickly and was rushed to Marshall. Splawn said that, while it was too late to prevent lasting harm, the cham­ber may have saved his life.

Concerns over rapid decompression did affect the crews training in the tank in one way, though. “In our dives, we never went deep enough for long enough that we couldn’t safely return to the surface of the tank in a hurry,” Kerwin said. “But climbing into the cockpit of a T-38 and flying home at reduced cabin pressure was another story. Flying after diving sets pilots up for bends. So we did a study, and came up with rules for how long a diver had to loiter on the surface before launching for home. It varied from a few hours after one dive to an overnight stay after two days’ work underwater.”

Blood, Toil, Sweat, and Teeth: Memories of Skylab Medical Training

Until Skylab, crewmen had worn biomedical sensors pretty much all the time during flight. On the early Mercury and Gemini flights, when ground sta­tions in the Manned Spaceflight Network (known by the time of Skylab as the Spacecraft Tracking and Data Network) were scattered around the world, the flight surgeon attached to each station crew would study those heartbeat and respiration traces intently as the spacecraft passed overhead, looking for signs of stress. Heart rates during spacewalks were useful as they were a pret­ty good indication of crew workload and oxygen consumption.

As the NASA doctors looked at the heart rates of astronauts under the stresses of launch acceleration, weightlessness, spacewalks, and just hang­ing around, they inevitably witnessed the occasional irregularity — usually a premature beat or a run of two or three of them. They came to accept these as within the limits of normal. But the arrhythmias they saw in the Apollo 15 crew on the way back from the moon were more marked and a cause of considerable anxiety on the ground. Future Apollo flights carried medica­tions for such arrhythmias.

With this background and the greatly increased duration of the planned Skylab flights, a medical desire for as much data as possible remained, as exemplified by the following excerpts from NASA memos:

To: EA/Manager, Apollo Applications Program October 3,1968 From: CA/Director of Flight Crew Operations [Deke Slayton]

Subject: Bioinstrumentation for Apollo Applications Program (aap) Missions

The long duration, large volume and required crew mobility of AAP core missions will require different guidelines for the transmission ofbiomedical data. Contin­uous-wear instrumentation will not be feasible. Numerous medical experiments will be performed which require instrumentation, and which will give medical monitors the information needed to assess crew status.

Therefore, the following guidelines are recommended: Bioinstrumentation will be worn for launch, entry, eva and medical experiments. It will not be worn at other times unless requiredfor diagnostic purposes. . . .

To: CA/Director of Flight Crew Operations Oct 16, ip68 From: DA/Deputy Director of Medical Research and Operations Subject: Bioinstrumentation Requirements in the Apollo Applications Program

. . . I feel it is inappropriate for you to propose guidelines for the acquisition of biomedical data without full coordination of these guidelines with our Direc­torate. The following comments regarding your memorandum are offered in a constructive vein in the hope that you may be persuaded to address future rec­ommendations to this Directorate….

It is our present hope that the principles enunciated in your two proposed guide­lines can be fully satisfied but we do not have sufficient technical or operation­al information to accept these guidelines as program constraints at the present time.

The doctors had a point; it was pretty early in the program. Deke withdrew the memo, and the problems were worked out amicably. Not without a glitch or two along the way, however.

To: cb/Pete Conrad From: CB /Joe Kerwin

Subject: Medical Operations Requirements

DA memo of5-15-70 (on file) presents instrumentation requirements and guide­lines for Skylab…. Wearing of bio-harness during sleep is a new requirement, is not feasible or useful, and should be discouraged!

At about this time, the question of dental treatment on Skylab surfaced. The astronauts’ dentist, Dr. Bill Frome, recommended putting a dental kit onboard and training two men on each crew to use it, in light of his experience with astronaut patients. He argued that palliative treatment, even up to extracting an abscessed and painful tooth, was preferable to terminating a mission. Deke asked Kerwin to review it.

To: CA/Donald K. Slayton From: CB/Joseph P. Kerwin Subject: Pulling Teeth

A one percent chance ofa serious dental problem on a 28-day mission is not sur­prising. That’s (28x 3 =) 84 man-days, which is onepercent of 8,400 man-days or 23 man-years. If we have 46 astronauts, one ofthem will need emergency den­tal care every six months — which matches Dr. Frome’s experience.

I have asked Dr. Frome to set up his proposed 1.5-day training program and run me through it as a guinea pig….

I believe that the right thing to do is to let them put the hardware on board, agree to train one of three crewmen (which cuts the risk but does not eliminate it) and reevaluate after the first mission.

“Management decided to go ahead and train two members of each crew, and we had a ball,” Kerwin said. “We traveled with Dr. Frome to San Anto­nio, to the U. S. Air Force Dental Clinic at Brooks afb. Bill and the den­tal staff had recruited a number of volunteers who needed to have a tooth extracted. (One of the first lessons was that you didn’t pull teeth, you extract­ed them.) So there we were, six of us, wielding syringes filled with xylocaine and wicked-looking dental forceps (and much more nervous than the patients were), getting those jaws numb and those molars out under the watchful eye of our dentist instructors.

“Paul Weitz drew a retired Air Force general. My patient’s molar broke in two during the procedure and had to come out in pieces. We were very glad when it was over. But I believe we could have done the deed in flight had we needed to. (We didn’t, and no dental emergencies arose during any mission.)

The dental kit became part of a medical kit for taking care of illness and injury aboard the Skylab space station. It was called the In-Flight Medical Support System. In retrospect, it looks like supplies for a pretty modest doc­tor’s office, but at the time it was quite a leap forward. It contained minor surgical instruments, a laryngoscope and tracheostomy kit, intravenous fluids, and lots of medications including injectables. Diagnostic equipment included equipment to make and examine blood smears and do cultures and antibiotic sensitivity tests on various body fluids. Kerwin, the doctor of the group who was quite familiar with the tools, was very much in favor of car­rying the equipment to Skylab. Some of the others, familiar with medical equipment primarily from being on the receiving end, were less so.

To: CA/Donald K. Slayton

From: CB/Joseph P. Kerwin

Subject: In-Flight Medical Support System (imss)

It’s clear from glancing through the list that this is mostly a doctor’s bag, not a first-aid kit. The document doesn’t say that, and it even proposes to train pilots to use all the equipment, which I find unrealistic. (Medschool was easy, but not that easy!) It’s also apparent that to justify the more elaborate equipment opera­tionally —from the standpoint of mission success— is darn near impossible. Major medical catastrophes just aren’t that much more likely to happen in eight weeks than they were in two. Minor illnesses are, but not heart attacks, etc… .

But that’s not the only point of view. Let me give, from my point of view, some reasons for carrying a doctor’s bag:

1. Up to now, the medical program has been unbalanced in the direction of pure research instead of treating illness and injury in space. This is a capa­bility we don’t need today, but we certainly will need it in space station times —for economic reasons at the least. It seems prudent to start using Skylab to develop equipment andprocedures to meet this need, just as we used Gemini to develop a rendezvous capability.

2. It’s true that a doctor isn’t mandatory on any Skylab flight. But if you do happen to have one along, you ought to allow him to do a little goodfor the program in his spare time by providing him with some of the tools of his trade. He could do an occasional physical exam on his buddies, and try out the simple laboratory tests on himself, by way of proving that they work. It would sure beat looking out the window.

In retrospect Kerwin found that last statement to be really dumb — noth­ing in Skylab beat looking out the window. But the In-Flight Medical Sup­port System was approved, and the same two crewmen who wielded the dental forceps were taught to use an otoscope and an ophthalmoscope, pal­pate and percuss, and report their findings to a doctor in Mission Control. “It was a wild experience for the pilots and a valuable refresher for me,” Ker­win said. “We were even taken to the trauma unit at Ben Taub Hospital in

Houston on a Friday night, where under the skilled tutelage of Dr. Pedro Rubio, the chief resident, we watched one of the best emergency medicine teams in America deal with life-threatening trauma and illness.”

Trauma training at Ben Taub Hospital proved a memorable experience for the astronauts. It was always scheduled on a Friday or Saturday evening when the probability of gunshot or knife wounds was apparently the high­est. Sure enough the crew saw their share but usually kept their distance from the emergency team engaged in what was a life-or-death procedure for some incoming patients. More relevant to their Skylab situation, they also had personal discussion and training with the experts in ear, nose, and throat; gastrointestinal tract; and eye and other specialties about how to handle in-flight emergencies. Even in these early days, they could expect to have experts in prompt voice contact and even with TV downlink to pro­vide images to the ground. So they ended up with reasonable confidence that most emergencies could be handled if they should arise.

The astronauts were also introduced to a fine team of consultants from the Houston medical community—specialists who would be on call dur­ing all the Skylab missions to advise the NASA flight surgeons should trou­ble arise in flight. Drs. Page Nelson, Hiram Warshaw, Everett Price, Kamal Sheena, and Jules Borger gave freely of their time and talent. Knowing they were there provided the crew with a feeling of security.

One of the best things to come out of the In-Flight Medical Support System, Kerwin said, was the checklist. Stimulated by the need to explain medical equipment and procedures to a bunch of pilots, the medical team linked up with the training team to produce a fine, very graphic, and explic­it manual showing with simple line drawings what everything looked like and what to do.

“We had one more treat in store,” Kerwin said. “Drunk with enthusiasm by the opportunity to experiment in space, the medical research team pushed for one final capability—to take and return blood samples. Not a big deal, you say; but it was, first because it had never been done before and second because it posed some hardware challenges in weightlessness.”

It was done. The crews agreed to give blood weekly; one member of each crew was trained to be the “vampire”; and an assortment of air-evacuat­ed tubes, a centrifuge to separate cells from plasma, and arrangements to freeze and return the samples were designed and flown. It all worked quite well. “I drew my own blood, not wanting to put Pete or Paul to the trouble of learning (and perhaps forgetting) how,” Kerwin said. “Pete hated being stuck and on the ground tended to become light-headed. But the blood couldn’t rush from your head in zero-G, so Pete was fine. He just looked away from the needle.”

The first crew, by benefit of being first and of having the physician of the group among its number, bore much of the hard work in planning for crew participation in the medical experiments (with a lot of help from Bill Thorn­ton, also a medical doctor and a Skylab guinea pig himself during simula­tions) . Therefore the training activity for the second and third crews fol­lowed much the same protocol as developed for the first flight team.

“Of course there were always some personal differences in practice,” Gar – riott said. “Whereas the first mission would have a doctor on board who knew the medical objectives and protocol in detail, as he had helped devise them, plus the fact that some of his other crewmembers were apparently not too enthusiastic about some of the procedures (e. g., blood draws), the sec­ond flight team all started substantially at the same level in terms of med­ical experience.”

Garriott described his crew with respect to the medical procedures as being all novices but with a keen interest in the protocol and personal results. No deference was provided to the scientist astronaut in this area, he said; everyone wanted to know about and participate in all that they could. They were all trained to draw blood and planned to do it in flight. They started with practice puncturing the skins of oranges or grapefruit with a hypoder­mic needle to simulate that of a human arm. Next came human volunteers, usually from life-science workers in the msc laboratories. As it turns out, there were more female than male volunteers (“Perhaps tougher constitu­tion, or more highly motivated?” Garriott remarked), and this often made the task more difficult—perhaps having less visible and accessible veins to attack. But all three of the crewmen successfully accomplished the blood draws a number of times, finally even drawing their fellow crewmen’s blood at least once. “It was good practice and we actually enjoyed the training,” Garriott said.

During flight all three crewmembers put their training into practice. Gar­riott routinely drew the blood of Bean and Lousma, while one or the oth­er would draw his blood on the desired schedule, every week or so. On one occasion in the middle of the crew’s two-month stay, the ground asked to have a video of the actual procedure. Lousma was scheduled to draw Gar – riott’s blood.

“We got all the cameras placed properly and the video recorder running for later dump to the ground,” Garriott said. “With all the paraphernalia in place, I bared my left arm, got the tourniquet tight, Jack made an excellent ‘stick,’ and the blood flowed freely just as desired. When finished, we with­drew the needle and blood promptly squirted all over the place! I had for­gotten to remove the tourniquet first and all the blood pressure trapped in the lower part of the arm took the path of least resistance into space. So we cleaned up the mess I had made, rewound the tape recorder and did it all over again using my right arm. The physicians on the ground seemed hap­py with the demonstration.”

Homesteading Space

The book that follows is a riveting, insightful account of the Skylab mis­sions flown by the United States in 1973 and 1974. It is also simply a great yarn. Skylab began as an underdog, was nearly knocked out several times, staggered back to its feet, and fought on against overwhelming odds until it became a champion. In a lot of ways, it was the Rocky of space, and just like the story in that great film, it is an inspiration for all who know it. The difference is the remarkable saga of Skylab is all true.

For those of us who are old hands at NASA and in the space business, it is sometimes easy to forget what a great adventure it was and still is. Ulti­mately when all the layered explanations of why we go into space are peeled away, adventure remains at its core. But adventure aside, there are many quite practical reasons to go off our home planet. For one, the solar system is awash in energy resources such as microwaves and solar energy, and even the helium-3 isotopes that cover our moon seem perfect for futuristic fusion reactors. For another, the absence of gravity might ultimately produce won­derful new products, even life-saving medicines. And where else but space can we go to get above our light and radio-wave-polluted Earth and gain unobstructed views of our sun, the solar system, and the universe? Space is a scientific gold mine, and I believe some day it will be an economic one as well. But to be successful in the cosmos, we have to first figure out how to get there and stay. In other words, we have to learn to homestead space. This book tells how we first began to understand how to do that, through the program known as Skylab. Although often neglected by spaceflight historians, Skylab provided the key to all human space activities that fol­lowed. Quite simply, it was the series of flights that proved to the world that humans could live and work for long periods in space.

I grew up in the golden era of science fiction where all the spacemen (and spacewomen, though often scantily clad) were stalwart and brave. They were sort of ingenious, techno-savvy Davy and Polly Crocketts conquer­ing the wild frontier while riding rockets. The robots in those tales were usually built only to help their humans through some difficulty (“Danger, Will Robinson!”), and the mightiest computer was the one every human had between his ears. If people were to explore space, they’d just have to go there themselves and have a look around. There was no other way. Not many of my favorite old-time writers guessed that by the time we were actu­ally able to go into space, there would be a revolution in robotics combined with minimizing the size and maximizing the capabilities of computers. The reality of early spaceflight (and that’s where we are now—very, very early) is that it is far easier, cheaper, and faster to send a robot than a human into space to explore and send back information on anything we please. But does that satisfy us? No indeed, and it shouldn’t. For instance, we are also perfectly capable of purchasing a video travelogue of Paris. From the com­fort of our living rooms, we can see the traffic passing beneath the Arc de Triomphe and the strollers along the Champs Elysees. But can we experi­ence Paris with a video? No. We can only get a sense of what it is like. We can’t look around a corner to see where some interesting alley might lead, or sit on a park bench and smell the aroma of fresh bread, or discover a new artist in the Louvre. It is the same for space. Ultimately to experience it, to gain from it all the riches it holds, the old sci-fi writers were correct. We humans must climb into pressurized containers and boldly rocket into the cosmic vacuum and there wrest from it with our own two hands all that it holds. In other words we still need spacefaring Meriwether Lewises and William Clarks off on bold adventures while accomplishing important sci­entific and economic work for the nation. The men and women who built and operated Skylab understood this and were determined to make such space accomplishments possible.

Skylab was designed to gain scientific knowledge in Earth orbit by utiliz­ing equipment originally designed to carry men to the moon and back. It could be fairly said that Skylab was built from the spare parts of the Apollo program. Accordingly it was often neglected while the moon shots got all the energy and money, but eventually its time in the sun came, and what a grand time it was! Looking back now it’s astonishing what we learned

from it. During its three crewed missions, a trove of scientific knowledge was harvested that is yet unmatched by any other space facility, including the International Space Station. Skylab’s huge volume, its well-constructed and considered scientific packages, its ability to generate more than ade­quate electrical power (after some emergency repairs!), and its focused crews made it, in my opinion, the finest comprehensive science and technological platform any country has ever sent into space. But I have to confess what I really, really like about Skylab is this: When it got into trouble, spacemen armed with wrenches, screwdrivers, and tin snips were sent up to fix it. No robots, no computers, no remotely controlled manipulating arms, just guys in suits carrying tools. The old sci-fi writers would have loved it!

Of course, with any space mission there is far more to the story than the spacecraft itself, or the crews. There must first be the visionaries who conceive the mission, then the politicians who must back it, followed by the armies of engineers, managers, accountants, and myriad other profes­sionals who make it all work on the ground before the first rocket engine is lit on the pad. As this book informs us, one of Skylab’s visionaries was a favorite of mine, none other than Dr. Wernher von Braun. In my mem­oir, Rocket Boys/October Sky, I told how when I was a teenager, more than anything in the world, I wanted to work for Dr. von Braun. In fact his bril­liance was the distant, flickering flame for all the rocket boys and girls of that era and the reason a lot of us became engineers and scientists. Part of the fun of this book is reading how Dr. von Braun just went ahead and did things, including building the giant Neutral Buoyancy Simulator (nbs) at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The nbs was a big tank of water that allowed astronauts and engineers to simulate the weight­less conditions of space. I am very appreciative that Dr. von Braun cut a few bureaucratic corners and built the nbs. Not only did his tank ultimately save Skylab, it also saved me when I suffered a bout of decompression sick­ness and had to be treated in its chamber. It was a great facility, although now sadly abandoned and fallen into disrepair. People ask me these days if I miss working for NASA. I do, sometimes, but mostly because I can’t dive in the grand old nbs.

Although Skylab was accomplished before I became a NASA engineer, I did work on similar space missions, including training astronauts to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. That was an intricate, difficult mission but we

knew we could do it because we had the example of Skylab’s repair. I also worked on Spacelab, which was a science laboratory carried in the Space Shuttle’s cargo bay. The Spacelab program, which proved to be a wonderful set of science missions, was profoundly affected by Skylab. Many times while working on a Spacelab situation, I heard, “Well, when I worked on Skylab, something like this happened and we. . .” Invariably the information given solved the problem we were working. One might suspect we Spacelabbers resented help from the old Skylab hands but not so. When there’s work to be done in the space business, listening to veterans who’ve already done it is a smart thing to do. I’m proud to say that’s what we did, at least on Spacelab and the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions.

I count as a good friend one of the authors of this book, astronaut Owen Garriott. With our friends and family, he and I have explored the Galapa­gos Islands and also hunted in Montana for dinosaur bones. It is fascinat­ing to read this book and see a somewhat younger Owen aboard Skylab. Actually, from this account, he hasn’t changed much. He’s still a detailed observer of his surroundings and an amazing fount of scientific knowledge. He is also quite competitive and intensely focused. In other words he’s chal­lenging to be around and, therefore, the kind of friend we should all culti­vate. Over the years I’ve also met all the other astronauts who flew on Sky­lab, plus backup Rusty Schweickart and Capcom (and future first Shuttle pilot) Bob Crippen. When October Sky the movie came out, I invited Pete Conrad to attend. I was gratified when he showed up for the premiere, and it didn’t take long before we were deep in conversation, mostly about Sky – lab and our mutual experiences in the nbs. While my agent kept tugging at my elbow (“Homer, Steven Spielberg wants to say hello!”), I kept fending him off. Finally, I turned and barked, “Look, don’t you understand? I’m talking to Pete Conrad!" My agent slunk off, and Pete and I finished our talk, one I still savor. I also once had Dr. Joe Kerwin turn up in one of my book-signing lines. I was astonished, though supremely pleased to see him there. I knew then I’d written a pretty good book.

The scientific and technological brilliance and love of adventure of all the Skylab astronauts were remarkable. This was also true of nearly all the people who worked on Skylab, such as Chuck Lewis, my former (and great, not to mention indulgent) boss at NASA, and Bob Schwinghamer who let me work in the nbs. Perhaps it was luck, or good fortune, but somehow the program got the people it needed and deserved. As a result, nearly every American-crewed mission since Skylab has been profoundly affected by the experiences gained by its nine crewmembers and the thousands of men and women who conceived, promoted, designed, constructed, rescued, and then made operational that magnificent facility. Just as the title of this book indi­cates, Skylab ultimately taught us how to make space our home. For a facil­ity partially built from spare parts, I think that’s prodigious!

Mission Control and Training

The astronauts assigned to the flight crews were not the only ones having to train for the mission. In February 1972, over a year before the launch of the Skylab station, the Mission Control Center team began running their first simulations for the missions.

The long-duration aspect of the Skylab program presented new chal­lenges for the mcc team that would require advance preparation. On the ground every moment that the crews were in space, a team of people would be supporting them around the clock in Mission Control. In fact the control team would be operating Skylab even when the astronauts were not aboard it. And for the Mission Control team as much as for the astronauts, Skylab was a new spacecraft, completely unlike anything flown before, with its own unique parameters and requirements. In addition, the work the crews would be doing on Skylab would be unlike anything done in space before, so new procedures would have to be learned in order to support them.

According to Phil Shaffer, the lead flight director, operations control for Skylab was a mixture of old and new for the flight directors, with some elements being very similar to those in Apollo, and others being different from anything flown before. “The part that is similar to prior programs is that there was a trajectory function and there were the systems functions,” Shaffer said. “There was an electrical guy, a communications guy, there was an environmental guy, you know, each with their support staff and in that sense was all very similar. The manning level or the expertise requirement was the same as if we were doing a lunar mission.

“The teams, if you stood away a little ways, looked like Apollo teams or Gemini teams in the way they were structured because there was a flight director who literally was responsible for everything, there was a capsule communicator for air-to-ground voice, there was a surgeon, and there was a networks guy,” Shaffer said. “And all of those positions, you know some of them had slightly different names. Like gnc [guidance, navigation, and con­trol] for the csm was called gns [guidance navigation system] for the Sky – lab to distinguish different positions. Different names were required when both the csm and Skylab were up and active at the same time. There was a limited on-orbit team for when the csm was powered down. There were five on-orbit teams that did planning, preparation, and support execution for the experiments, evas, maintenance and repair, or whatever else was going on. These teams were led by [Phil] Shaffer, Don Puddy, Neil Hutchinson, Chuck Lewis, and Milt Windler. There was also a trajectory team led by Shaffer that was decidedly different from the on-orbit teams. It supported launch and rendezvous, and deorbit and entry, and maintaining orbital life­time by raising the vehicle orbital altitude. They did all those calculations. So, there were six teams: five on-orbit teams and one trajectory team, basi­cally, for the year of the program.”

Differences began with the launch. The crews flew into space on one space­craft that was essentially a taxi carrying them to another spacecraft where they would spend the bulk of their mission. “Another thing that was dif­ferent was having two very dissimilar vehicles, with some of the time both being active, so that you had two com guys and two environmental guys and two electrical guys on occasion,” Shaffer said. “Certainly until you got the Skylab powered-down for leaving or the Command Service Module pow­ered-down for the habitation period. The situation on Apollo was similar during the lunar-landing sequence with the Lunar Module and csm being involved. It was a bit of a zoo keeping all of that business straight.”

The attitude control systems for the massive Skylab space station were also very different from both a conceptual and an operational standpoint than any of their predecessors. “The new for Skylab was not new in name but new in type and that was an attitude control system with Control Moment Gyros [cmgs] ,” he said. “That was a whole new business in place of small rock­ets, reaction control thrusters, to control the attitude. You had these giant cmgs that were wonderful. The cmg system was assisted by a cold gas sys­tem called TACS [Thruster Attitude Control System].”

Attitude control—which basically amounts to which way the spacecraft is pointing—on Apollo was pretty straightforward, a basic application of Newton’s law that states for every action there is an equal and opposite reac­tion. That law is what allows rockets to travel through space, even though there is nothing there to push against. A rocket engine burns fuel to gener­ate thrust, and the action of the engine spewing flame backwards leads to the opposite reaction of the rocket moving forward. The same principle that pushes a large rocket through space also, on a much smaller scale, allowed the Apollo spacecraft to control its attitude. Rocket engines burned fuel, and the spacecraft turned in the opposite direction. The Skylab Thruster Attitude Control System took that simple concept and applied it in an even simpler way. Rather than burning fuel, the TACS simply vented cold gas into space. The action of the gas being vented produced the opposite reaction needed to control attitude.

The cmgs worked on a more arcane principle of physics—angular momen­tum. Tilting the spinning rotor of a Control Moment Gyroscope resulted in a torque that would rotate the entire station. Attitude control via cmg had the additional benefit for a long-duration mission of requiring no fuel, rely­ing instead on the power produced by Skylab’s solar panels.

In addition to the new attitude-control techniques, Shaffer said, new Mis­sion Control responsibilities were added to provide support for the science operations on Skylab. “And then there were the experiments,” he said. “We had a control function for Earth sensing. We had a control function for the celestial viewing. One looked up, the other one looked down. We had a con­trol function—a control position—for all the biomedical activity, a control function for materials science.”

While Mission Control had been involved in science support before, nota­bly during the lunar research during Apollo, Shaffer said that the support needed to coordinate the Skylab research was substantially more complex. For example, both Skylab and Apollo missions included making surface observations from orbit. Skylab had its Earth resources observation pack­age and Apollo carried equipment in the Service Module’s sim [Scientific Instrument Module] Bay that imaged the lunar surface. Although there was a general similarity in function, they were very different in operation. “The

Earth resources guy [in Mission Control], for instance, had a huge coordi­nation activity he did with the aircraft overflight, and with the ground truth people, and with the weather service going on with his planning. This was dramatically different from the equivalent function on Apollo. The guy in the Command Service Module was not running the sim Bay.”

Another change for Skylab that was worked out before flight was the real­time mission planning that would have to take place while the crews were in orbit. On prior missions extremely detailed plans were laid out ahead of time. On Skylab more activities were scheduled on a day-to-day basis dur­ing the mission. Every day the flight control teams would plan out what the crew would do the next day. “The evening shift did the detail preparation for the next workday’s activities,” Shaffer said. “The midnight shift did the overall plan for two days hence. And in part I think that was done to provide shelf life for both the support data that was going to go to the crew for the upcoming day and to give negotiation and preparation time for the struc­ture of the plan two days hence.”

That’s not to say no planning was done further ahead. Rough outlines of activities were put together for a week in advance, structured around such things as astronomical or Earth resources observations that were to be made. Since those had to take place at a very precise particular time, they were placed on the schedule first, and other activities that were more flexi­ble were filled in around them.

“All of that was all done by the time we entered the upcoming twenty – four-hour thing; then the remaining pieces were put in,” he said. “The sur­geons would have to get their requirements in. Life sciences was a really big deal, so significant effort was needed to get all of their activities in within their constraints. Vehicle maintenance had to be done, including servicing the atm and the associated eva activity. All of that got dropped into the plan. All of that happened on the evening shift. And that was new. The nearest thing to it may have been the lunar excursion planning activity while crews were on the lunar surface for two or three days. It evolved, and we all got really comfortable with it.”

There was some concern about why there had to be so many levels of advanced planning, but the system proved effective. Among its strengths was that getting a good bit of the planning done early freed up more time to react to any unexpected situations or to finish any previous scheduling that needed adjustment. “If we needed more time to get the detail flight plan support stuff ready for the crew, you had it,” Shaffer said. “There was basi­cally another whole shift available to finish up that work. And if something was wrong with your big plan for the day, then you had time to renegotiate whatever problems that created.”

Of course, no matter how much planning was done in advance, there were always times the plan had to be changed as new circumstances arose. “The classic case, to me, happened on one of my watches,” said Shaffer, “and it comes up under my title of‘surgeon’s rigidity and the bologna sandwich.’ A volcano in Central America decided serendipitously to start a major erup­tion while we were on orbit with all of our wonderful erep equipment. Of course the geologists and geophysicists were going nuts because it was an opportunity to use much of the erep sensor equipment we had to really get new and significant information about an erupting volcano that they had never had the opportunity to get before. It would be like looking ‘down the gun barrel’ right through clouds. They really wanted to do this.

“The conflict was that the orbit track that was going to go over the vol­cano happened during an already scheduled meal. The surgeon, because of his dietary scheduling requirements rigor declared that they were critical, and he couldn’t change the mealtime. That might change the digestive pro­cesses results, and there was no compromise for it. And I had a lot of sym­pathy for both parties, but here was a one-time event and we were going to be up there for many, many meals.

“Finally after much debate, I resurrected mission rule one dash whatev­er it is that says the flight director is in charge in real time. It means he can do whatever he needs to. So I decided to do it, and I told the surgeon on the loop that we are going to do the data take over the volcano, that his dietary concerns are not equal in terms of return. Plus, everybody knows ya’ll have the wrong diet. Everybody knows the best diet for in-flight work is a bolo­gna sandwich.

“The surgeon kind of imploded. I think he thought I had impugned him, and so he stopped objecting. We did the data take, and it was wonder­ful. Lunch was about a half-hour late. It was no big deal. I believed that. I believed it didn’t make any difference. We got all of that done.

“A curious thing happened the next day. When I came on shift there on my console was a bologna sandwich, which honest to goodness was a foot and a half long and six inches wide and had at least an inch of bologna in it. Nobody ever ’fessed up to where it came from. So I don’t know whether the surgeons did it or somebody who had heard the conversations. I always hoped that the surgeon did it. But it changed the dynamic. We got along better after that. Not a lot, but. . .”

During flight, this issue was greatly alleviated by the addition of another level of coordination within the science community. The initial structure in which the various disciplines each advocated their own concerns to Mis­sion Control was putting substantial strain on the flight directors, who had to weigh and balance those concerns. “So what we did was invent a tsar—a ‘science tsar,’” Shaffer explained. The first science tsar was Robert Park­er, a member of the second group of scientist astronauts. “At that point we refused to listen to all those people any more; we only listened to Robert. He brought the finished product into the planning shift, which we then imple­mented. That all worked well in the planning cycle, though it didn’t help a lot if you ran into something happening in a real-time conflict, because Robert wasn’t always available to us.”

At one point during Skylab mission preparations, Shaffer said, the ulti­mate authority of the flight director for dealing with real-time situations as they occurred was challenged by a visitor from NASA headquarters. “This is another one of those stories people don’t know anything about,” he said. “During the Skylab 2 sims [simulations], this guy showed up, badged and everything, and walked into the control center. Because I was launch flight director, I was running the sims.

“And he said, ‘Where’s my console?’” Shaffer said. “And I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said ‘I’m the mission management representative from Washing­ton.’ I said, ‘What do you do?’ And he says, ‘I am from NASA headquarters, and I have the final say in all of the decisions we’ll make in this program.’ And I said, ‘Well, I find that pretty interesting. I’ve never heard of you before, and there’s really no place in my flight control team for you to do that, par­ticularly during a dynamic phase. Frankly, you’ll be a lot more trouble than you’re worth no matter how good you are.’ And he says, ‘Be that as it may, I am here to stay.’ And I said, ‘Very well.’”

Shaffer said that he considered calling director for flight operations—and NASA’s first flight director—Chris Kraft to come deal with the situation, con­fident that the original “Flight” would back him up. However, he decided to try and handle the problem himself before resorting to calling for help. “I went back to my console and got on one of my secondary voice loops to the simulations supervisor, and said ‘I want you to give me the “Apollo tape case,”’” Shaffer said. “So Sim Sup says, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I said, ‘Because I’m asking you to.’ And he said, ‘I got it.’

“So he gave us that case and things really went to hell in a hand basket. The tape was the source for all the csm systems failure descriptions and data used for training simulations for the flight controllers and flight crews. We couldn’t tell where we were in orbit after the launch phase, communi­cation was really ratty, and there were electrical problems, computer prob­lems, etc. I unplugged and ran up to his console and said, ‘Tell me quick. . . what do I do now?’

“The guy looked at me, reached up, unplugged his communications set, got up, and walked out. We never saw him again during a dynamic flight phase.” On orbit however, his group was very active via an ad hoc organiza­tion called the Mission Management Team.