Skylab Human Experience

For in-depth historical and operational details of the Skylab programme, see Skylab: America's Space Station, David J. Shayler, Springer-Praxis, 2001. What follows are additional observations and comments from the three science pilots who flew the missions.

The first manned mission (Skylab 2-25 May-22 Jun 1973)

After a delayed launch and the Skylab repair, the science programme of Skylab 2 crammed as much science and investigations into the final two weeks of the mission as possible. Problems with the ergometer surfaced during the first run of the unit, and because of the increased heat, Kerwin recommended shortening the experiment run. It was also difficult to restrain themselves to the device, so trying to ride it as they had done on the ground was a mistake. On top of that, the flight day schedule was too tight, which reduced their exercise period even further. Kerwin commented, "It's been scheduled strictly on paper, as far as we were concerned, because the other scheduled

The Skylab 2 crew, who would fly the first manned mission to America's space station, stand in front of the Skylab 1 Orbital Workshop atop the last Saturn V, May 1973. Left to right: Pilot Paul Weitz, Commander Pete Conrad and Science Pilot Joe Kerwin.
The 7 June 1973 EVA to deploy the jammed solar array and rescue the Skylab space station was performed by Conrad and Kerwin.

tasks have taken so much time that they have completely absorbed and wiped out the physical training.'' Kerwin thought that scheduling physical exercise before or after a major activity with a defined time schedule was a serious mistake and expressed concerns that Mission Control would give the exercise period more priority over other objectives. The harness had been designed by Story Musgrave and looked fine on the ground, but it proved impractical on orbit, restricting circulation in the thighs and having a tendency to ride up when pedalling the bike. It was found that maintaining posture with no restraint worked best, so the Musgrave harness was ''carefully folded up and shoved in the trash airlock.''16

Due to the extra workload caused by the EVAs and trying to catch up, recorded pulse rates were higher than expected, but the doctors only reviewed the data several days after it had been taken. The crew were surprised when the doctors asked for further information on their health before allowing a further EVA. Pete Conrad was mostly upset by the fact that the ground had not asked the in-flight doctor for his opinion. One of the reasons for flying a doctor in space was to study the workload and adaptability of the crew in real time, and Kerwin was in a much better position to observe the condition of the crew and the relevance of the data than the doctors on the ground. It seemed that even with a doctor in space, the decisions would be made by the team on the ground - without consultation. An apology was received by the crew, but it was still early days for flying scientists trained as astronauts in space and allowing

The Skylab 2 crew (in Navy Whites) present mementos to President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev.

them to make independent decisions, particularly when they affected operational issues.

As the flight progressed, the workload lightened to allow the crew to prepare for the return to Earth. Sometimes the work seemed tedious, to such an extent that Kerwin noted that it seemed like they had remained on Flight Day 18 for a week. Kerwin was responsible for the ATM and medical issues on the mission, and was the CM navigator handling the telescope, sextant and computer. He also acknowledged that the crew never really got into a suitable ATM routine on Skylab, at least not for more than a few days at a time. This was basically due to a number of interruptions and frustrations with the ATM solar flare detector, which could also be triggered by the South Atlantic anomaly. In one case, Kerwin began the procedure for recording a solar flare, but fortunately realised what had happened before he used too much film. He was never enthusiastic about the alarm system, and in the post-flight report he labelled it "absolutely worthless.''

Kerwin recalled in his 2000 oral interview that the lessons learned on Skylab had direct application to ISS, in terms of habitability, diet and exercise, and the structure of the working day. That the gap between Skylab and ISS was over twenty-five years disappointed him, but the fact that the construction had started was a move in the right direction. To Kerwin, a permanent presence in space was important for establishing a way station for planetary exploration and as a "very useful national labora tory in weightlessness.'' In fact, Kerwin commented that the one good thing about the substantial gap between Skylab and ISS was that it kept him in useful employment, as he was constantly being asked how things were done on Skylab and his opinion about how things should be done on ISS.

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