Applying Apollo To Other Goals

The Skylab programme has its origins in the early years of NASA during the late 1950s and in the development of a manned space programme to follow the original one-man Project Mercury series. Studies of a station in space had existed for decades but with the dawn of the space age and the creation of the American civilian space agency, these plans moved from pages of science fiction to the drawing boards of leading spacecraft contractors.

A three-person spacecraft, called Apollo from July 1960, was planned as the next stage in America's manned quest for space. Apollo had the capability of flying both in Earth orbit and also to the Moon and back. By 1970, NASA was also looking towards the creation of a temporary scientific research station in Earth orbit, which in turn would lead to the first interplanetary trips to Mars in the 1980s and 1990s. Originally, the Apollo Command and Service Module was to have docked to specialised modules designated ''space laboratories'', or to carry scientific instruments in the spare equipment bay of the Service Module (or even a converted Lunar Module). But gradually, studies turned towards converting the Saturn S-IVB stage into a laboratory for missions of between four and six weeks. This concept featured in what became the Apollo Applications Program from 1965. The original idea was to use a spent (formerly fuelled, or ''wet'') S-IVB stage launched on an unmanned Saturn 1B, but the design was eventually simplified to utilise an unfuelled (or ''dry'') stage launched by a two-stage Saturn V variant.

Mercury-Gemini-Apollo-the Moon

In May 1961, US President John F. Kennedy set NASA its Moon landing challenge. To meet it, Apollo was amended to include lunar landing among its long-term goals, and the creation of a scientific research platform or space station slipped down the list of priorities. Later that year, a new programme called Gemini was devised to test the techniques that Apollo would require to achieve its goal, but in Earth orbit. A programme of scientific experiments would also be carried, however, taking advantage of the added volume on the Gemini, the extended duration of the missions and the addition of a second crew member. Though Gemini, like Mercury, was essentially an engineering development programme on the path to the Apollo Moon landings, science would be included on each mission at an increasing rate.

In order the meet the crewing requirements for Gemini and early Apollo missions, new pilot-astronauts were selected in 1962 and 1963. In the latter selection, although the focus remained on piloting skills, the selection criteria was expanded to include academic skills and qualifications. The first few flights in the Apollo programme were test-flight orientated, with mission safety and system qualification of primary importance. Science was more relevant to plans to use Apollo hardware for other missions following the successful landing on the Moon, although some of the Earth-orbital Apollo test flights could include some science to be conducted once the primary test objectives had been met. While the flight was in progress, it made sense to take advantage of the fact that a crew (of three) was in space, as well as the length of the missions (up to fourteen days) and the increased volume of the Apollo. However, although science experiments could be assigned to a mission, if such experiments did not support the lunar landing goal or could be deferred to a later mission, they would usually be reassigned.

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