Skylab assignments

During 1971, at the time of discussions over who would crew the Skylab missions, the following scientist-astronauts were still listed as active in the CB:

Astronaut

Selection

Academic attainment

CB Technical role

Allen

1967

PhD Physics

Support Apollo J missions

Chapman

1967

PhD Physics

Support Apollo J missions

England

1967

PhD Geophysics

Support Apollo J missions

Garriott

1965

PhD Electrical

Skylab Branch Office

engineering

Gibson

1965

PhD Engineering

Skylab Branch Office

Henize

1967

PhD Astronomy

Support Apollo J missions

Holmquest

1967

MD; PhD Physiology

Leave of absence (from Skylab

Branch Office)

Kerwin

1965

MD

Skylab Branch Office

Lenoir

1967

PhD electrical

Skylab Branch Office

Engineering

Musgrave

1967

MD

Skylab Branch Office

Parker

1967

PhD Astronomy

Support Apollo J missions

Schmitt

1965

PhD Geology

Back-up LMP Apollo 15;

LMP Apollo 17

Thornton

1967

MD

Skylab Branch Office

Of the four

remaining 1965 members, geologist Schmitt had been working on Apollo

issues for years and was in line to fly the final Apollo landing mission after backing up Apollo 15, so he was never really under consideration for an AAP/Skylab mission. The other three, however, had been working on the programme for some years, as well as fulfilling some Apollo support roles, so they were prime candidates for the three planned missions. The 1967 members had completed candidate astronaut training in 1969 and were immediately assigned to either Apollo lunar mission support or Skylab. They would provide support and back-up roles for the first station missions, with the slim hope that a second workshop might be funded and launched in late 1975 to support manned missions in 1976-7 (see below).

Given the physician requirement for the role of science pilot on the first mission, Kerwin was the natural choice, with Garriott and Gibson likely to fly the other two missions. In early 1971 at a CB pilots' meeting, Deke Slayton named the fifteen astronauts who would be assigned to the first Skylab's three-mission programme. There was a possibility of a fourth visit and, if circumstances and resources allowed, a fifth. Should the back-ups not get a chance to fly to the first station, a second station mission programme was still, at that time, a possibility for 1975-7. The fifteen were:

Crew

Prime

Back-up

1

Conrad-Kerwin-Weitz

Cunningham-Musgrave-McCandless

2

Bean-Garriott-Lousma

Schweickart-Lenoir-Lind

3

Carr-Gibson-Pogue

Schweickart-Lenoir-Lind

4

Cunningham-Musgrave-

From the crews of 1, 2 and 3

McCandless

5

Schweickart-Lenoir-Lind

From the crews of 1, 2 and 3

The exact date of this announcement has been contested by some of the scientist-astronauts. Kerwin has stated it was a 1970 meeting and no firm crewing had been decided upon, nor had the system of back-up rotation to prime crew been defined. Garriott indicates that Slayton and Al Shepard had been evaluating crewing (at least for scientists) for the first mission for five years before they flew in 1973 - which meant 1968 - so Kerwin, Garriott and Gibson had been earmarked for the three missions for some time.

The first mission would be the earliest opportunity the Americans had to fly for longer than fourteen days. This raised a number of medical issues that needed to be understood, and the best way to do that was to fly a physician-astronaut to monitor the health and well-being of the crew. As he was the most senior such astronaut, the position fell to Kerwin. The second mission was aimed primarily at ATM solar studies. Garriott's background in electrical engineering and his work during the development of the experiment package (plus his administrative roles in the AAP office) made him the natural choice for science pilot on the second mission. That left Gibson, who had studied atmospheric physics and solar physics and had worked on ATM issues (including extensive EVA simulations for ATM film retrieval and replacement) since coming to the Astronaut Office from flight school. With Earth resources objectives being a key part of the third mission, Gibson's selection as science pilot on that crew was a logical one.

Several of the pilot-astronauts who did not receive a Skylab assignment were not happy, even though the order of seniority still governed crew selections and despite the possibility, however slim, of a fourth or fifth mission or a second workshop. Musgrave was chosen as back-up to Kerwin, with Lenoir serving as back-up to both Garriott and Gibson. Cunningham left the programme before the formal announcement of the crews on 16 January 1972 and was replaced by Schweickart because an experienced astronaut was needed to support the first mission. Vance Brand replaced Schweickart as back-up commander for the second and third mission, but no Mission 4 or 5 crews were announced. By now, the prospects and the budget for a second Skylab had all but disappeared as the Space Shuttle began to be heavily promoted as the next step in space for NASA. Additional assignments announced in January 1972 were those of the support crew and Capcom for all three missions: Bill Thornton and Karl Henize would join Group 7 former MOL astronauts Bob Crippen, Hank Hartsfield and Dick Truly (and members of the two back-up crews) as required. On 19 February 1973, having just finished supporting Apollo 17 as Mission Scientist, Bob Parker was named as Programme Scientist for all three Skylab manned missions.

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