Science was given a higher priority on the longer second Skylab mission, as Garriott recalled in 2000. "Ninety per cent of your time is spent doing useful science research on board the Skylab, and everybody was highly trained and highly motivated to get that done. I could tell no significant difference between Alan Bean or Jack Lousma's motivation from my own.''19 One of Garriott's primary tasks, in addition to shifts at the ATM console, was operating the S190B Earth terrain camera during Earth resources passes while his colleagues operated the view finder tracking system for the S191 spectrometer or manned controls at the main display console. Garriott also found time to conduct several science demonstrations concerning the effects of weightlessness on drops of water, magnets, and spinning objects. These demonstrations were filmed and though less important than the primary science investigations,
provided the layman with an understanding of flying in space. Along with Jack Lousma's "space fan'' broadcasts on life in space, this gave Skylab inexpensive publicity and a lighter approach than the shorter, but more dramatic flights to the Moon. Skylab may have been perceived as a "routine" programme in space, but in some respects it was far more important to the long-term exploration of the solar system than the Apollo missions, though this was not necessarily apparent to the watching public.
Garriott took the opportunity to fly the Experiment 509 prototype of the Manned Manoeuvring Unit inside the orbital workshop after Bean and Lousma had completed the assigned test flights. Garriott had not trained to use the device, but drawing upon his modest amount of training to fly a spacecraft with translation and attitude control thrusters, he soon mastered it. "It was very pleasant to see how easy it was to fly, and perhaps it was useful to the designers as well to see that a person with essentially no training could learn to fly it so quickly.''
Garriott also recalled the sheer fun of "running" around the ring of lockers, first demonstrated by the Skylab 2 crew. Al Bean was a competent gymnast, but it was not long before all three members of the second crew were flipping and twisting across the domed upper workshop. "I'm sure you could win all the gold medals on Earth if you were just allowed to compete from space,'' was Garriott's opinion.
In reflecting on the greatest contribution of his Skylab flight, Garriott chose the gathering of solar measurements of the sun. This was achieved because they were able to see the solar disc for longer periods at UV and X-ray wavelengths, and could
examine the corona and mass ejections, data that was still being used for comparison with unmanned spacecraft data twenty-five years later. The other highlight was the focus on adaptation to long-duration space flight, proving that it is not a handicap if an emphasis is placed on the importance of exercise. This had direct application to extended duration flights on the Shuttle and ISS and will apply particularly on prolonged flights out to Mars.
The third manned mission (Skylab 4-16 Nov 1973-18 Feb 1974)
Ed Gibson likes to describe his only space flight, of eighty-four days, as over 2,000 hours of high performance rocket time - although he slept though a third of it.20 Having worked on AAP/Skylab issues since returning from flight school, Gibson became the point of contact in the Astronaut Office for the development of the ATM on Skylab, along with Garriott.
In 1975, Gibson was interviewed about his work on Skylab and way the third crew developed a working pattern based on the experiences of the first two crews. Apart from a much published disagreement over the initial workload and the illness of Bill Pogue, the results of the third mission were as good if not better than those of the first
two missions. Gibson recalled that the third crew worked all their days off and stayed up late as much as the second crew had. Eventually, though they struggled early in the mission, they would return with a quantity and quality of work comparable to that of the other two crews, due in part to learning from their colleagues' experiences. Gibson speculated that if the second and third crews had flown in reverse order, then Bean's crew would have come out with the higher quality data, simply due to the learning curve of the "system" based on the previous missions.
Gibson wrote the textbook The Quiet Sun (NASA SP-303) in the early 1970s, when the crew training programme for Skylab was being evolved. As most of the astronauts in the Skylab office had piloting or engineering backgrounds, there was little available material to educate them on solar physics to enable them to know what there were doing when using the ATM. Gibson worked with Al Holt of Flight Crew Support to remedy the situation, providing the CB with a handbook of solar physics that explained things to a lesser degree than professional solar scientists might expect, but in a way that the astronauts could understand. Holt worked on the "active sun'' whilst Gibson worked on "the quiet sun'' and developed it into the textbook published
in 1973. "It turned out to be a very good textbook, and I've been surprised since then. People come up and tell me they've used it as a textbook in their training and thought it was very good. That's probably one of the more positive feedbacks I've ever gotten in my life about something I've done.'' But did it help him to secure a seat on Skylab? "Well I don't know. I could have written anything and maybe still got the seat because there were three scientists and three seats. It was that simple. I didn't know at the time.''
Early in the mission, a major problem occurred when Bill Pogue fell ill. There was considerable pressure to complete the mission and to prove that astronauts could sustain a long flight in space, so that the Shuttle could fly a week or more in space with no problems. If an astronaut became sick in the first couple of days, then trying to land the Shuttle might present a problem, and this worried NASA into stating to Congress that they would solve the space sickness problem. Aware of this pressure, Gibson suggested bagging the vomit for the mineral balance experiment and telling the ground later, not wishing to "stir up a hornet's nest.'' But, unbeknown to the crew, the onboard tape was recording all of their comments. These were later dumped to Earth and played back, causing some consternation back on the ground and earning the crew a reprimand from Al Shepard. Then the crew fell behind schedule while trying to
acclimatise to space flight and find where everything was stored. There were no open communications to help them and they fell even further behind, until things reached a point when they voiced their opinions to the ground, and the ground responded by expressing their concerns to the crew. Following this frank exchange, the mission finally began to gather pace. By the end of the flight, the crew was surpassing many of the records set by the previous occupants.
Gibson reflected on the lessons learned on his mission. ''I still think NASA ought to allow private communication between the ground and the crew, and if the press wants to know what it is, tell them to pound sand. For the efficiency of running that space station (ISS), you need private communications.''
Gibson considers Skylab 4 to have been a mission at the forefront of something which was going to grow and become much larger in the future. ''The enjoyment was in looking back at Earth, the EVAs and some of the good science that was done and being able to use human ingenuity to accomplish it. Not to be just a button pusher, but to exert some human judgement into how you operate the experiments and then improve the quality of what was brought back. I realise how lucky I was to be in the right spot at the right time.'' One thing he would readily like to forget was the huge amount of food bars stuffed into the Command Module to supplement the food supplies on the space station. After three months of eating them, he has never been able stomach one since.
Ed Gibson at the ATM console in the Multiple Docking Adapter of the Skylab OWS during Skylab 4.
Was this article helpful?