After Apollo

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WITH THE RACE FOR THE MOON WON AND LOST, what next? After the overthrow of Khrushchev and the rise of a monolithic regime not given to "spectaculars", the Soviet Union soon decided that the practical exploitation of near-Earth space, for both civilian and military purposes, was to take priority. And if their early exit from the race to the Moon allowed them to tell the world they had never been interested in the first place, then so much the better. This, then, was to be a brave new era of Soviet cosmonautics - the era of the space stations.

NASA faced a different challenge. The very nature of the Apollo programme dictated that it would be short-lived, and development of America's next spacecraft, the much-hyped, much-delayed Space Shuttle, was only just beginning. However, there was still spare hardware left from three cancelled Apollos, and this would allow NASA to create a space station of its own and ultimately link up with the Soviets in space in a historic gesture that marked the definitive end of the Space Race.

14 May 1973

The launch of the unmanned Skylab space station atop a Saturn V rocket goes badly wrong and leaves the station crippled in orbit.

25 May 1973

The Skylab 2 launch carries the first crew to the station, with a complex repair mission to carry out before their scientific work can begin.

22 June 1973

Skylab 2 splashes down after 28 days in orbit - a new space endurance record for the crew.

28 July 1973

Skylab 3 begins a 59-day mission that sets another endurance record.

16 November 1973

Skylab 4 is launched on the third and final mission to the station.

8 February 1974

The Skylab 4 crew return to Earth after a record 84 days in orbit.

11 July 1979

The Skylab space station is destroyed re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. Parts land in Australia.

Laboratory in the sky

America's first space station, Skylab, was lofted into orbit in May 1973 in the final spectacular launch of a Saturn V rocket. Over the following year, three crews completed increasingly lengthy missions onboard.

Skylab 1, the space station's unmanned launch mission, almost ended in disaster. A shield designed to protect the station's walls from meteoroid impacts and the direct heat of the Sun deployed too early, and was ripped away by the supersonic air, carrying one of the two main solar panels with it. A loose metal strip then snagged across the remaining panel, preventing it from unfolding at all. By the time Skylab had reached orbit, it was already crippled -almost powerless and overheating badly. Only the smaller solar panels atop the Apollo //// Telescope Mount unfolded correctly.

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