Originally conceived as part of the Apollo Applications Program in the late 1960s, the first US space station was all that remained after cuts in NASA's budget. It began life as the Orbital Workshop project, a plan to launch a Saturn IB rocket into orbit with a specially prepared S-IVB upper stage. This stage would enter orbit, and an Apollo crew would then dock with it, drain its remaining fuel, and begin to fit it out as a laboratory. The Skylab that ultimately flew was carried by a Saturn V, allowing a more ambitious design that was fully fitted out on the ground before launch.

HABITABLE VOLUME 283 cubic m (9,985 cubic ft)




14 May 1973


11 July 1979


MAIN CONTRACTOR McDonnell Douglas airlock module and mda

Skylab's Airlock Module and Multiple Docking Adapter were built together at the McDonnell Douglas plant in St. Louis, then combined with the orbital laboratory fitted out elsewhere at the facility.

apollo telescope mount

The Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) was a large observatory originolly planned for independent launch before being combined with Skylab. It is shown here during testing at Marshall Spaceflight Center.

solar array acquisition Sun sensor

Sunshade solar array for

the orbital workshop

Sky lob's main section appears spacious in this view from the Airlock Module towards the aft end of the station. The upper section held a food freezer and water tanks in addition to the experimental equipment. The waste airlock can be seen in the centre of the far wall.

waste tanks attitude-control nitrogen bottles ward room solar array

Orbital Workshop


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launch oddities

Skylab itself was launched on a special two-stage Saturn V - here (left), the Orbitol Workshop section is being lowered onto the S-ll second stage. The Apollo spacecraft, meanwhile, was launched on a far smaller S-IB rocket. In order to lift off from the massive Saturn V launch structure, the rocket was hoisted onto a pedestal colled the Milk Stool (above).

When Skylab was abandoned in 1974, NASA believed the station would remain in orbit until the 1980s. They planned an early Shuttle mission to attach a manoeuvring engine to the station, either boosting its slowly decaying altitude or pushing it into the atmosphere for a controlled re-entry. But high drag from the atmosphere sealed Skylab's fate, and it crashed back to Earth in July 1979. Most of the station landed in the Indian Ocean, but several large fragments (such as the one seen here) came down over western Australia.

the complete skylab

This illustration shows Skylab os it would hove looked had deployment gone smoothly. As it was, the launch cost the station its micrometeoroid shield and one of its two larger solar arrays.

micrometeoroid shield sleeping compartment putting in the floor

An important early stage in the transformation of an empty S-IVB shell into an Orbital Workshop was the addition of a two-storey lightweight floor grid. This would divide the finished station into an upper laboratory and a lower living area, with a hexagonal access hole between them.

waste management filter solar panel deployment boom

15 July 1975

Apollo and Soyuz 19 launch from opposite sides of the Earth within hours of each other.

16 July 1975

Orbital manoeuvres steer the two spacecraft towards a rendezvous.

17 July 1975

The Apollo CSM docks with Soyuz 19, and Americans and Russians shake hands in space for the first time.

18 July 1975

Astronauts and cosmonauts conduct joint experiments in orbit.

19 July 1975

Apollo and Soyuz carry out docking and undocking tests. After separating for a second time, they retreat to a safe distance to continue their scientific missions.

21 July 1975

Soyuz 19 returns to Earth.

24 July 1975

The Apollo CM returns to Earth. During re-entry, a series of mishaps results in the cabin flooding with propellant gases, almost suffocating the astronauts.

The Apollo-Soyuz project

The decision to launch a joint Soviet-American spaceflight was largely a political one, but making it a reality required engineers and astronauts on both sides to overcome a number of technical and communication problems.

The years around 1970 saw a thawing of relations between the two sides in the Cold War - an interlude called détente, in which the rivalry between the superpowers briefly receded. At a summit in May 1972, US President Richard Nixon and Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin brought a formal end to the Space Race with the announcement that an Apollo and a Soyuz spacecraft would rendezvous and dock in space during 1975.

The announcement had been preceded by many months of patient diplomacy at all levels. Almost as soon as he took over from James Webb in October 1968, NASA Administrator Thomas 0. Paine had begun planning for a future of cooperation, rather than competition, in space. He began sounding out leading Soviet figures about the possibilities for a collaborative spaceflight, beginning with Mstislav Keldysh, President of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Discussions continued through the Apollo moon landings and the first Salyut launches, under both Paine and his successor James C. Fletcher, until finally a plan was agreed. The two-man Soyuz 19 spacecraft would rendezvous with an Apollo CSM in Earth orbit, on a mission called the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP).

Although the main benefits of the project would be political, there were also practical implications. A system for docking Soviet and American spacecraft would open up new options for potential rescue

mission insignia

The Apollo-Soyuz mission logo, with its stylized representation of the docked spacecraft, was a Soviet design.

mission insignia

The Apollo-Soyuz mission logo, with its stylized representation of the docked spacecraft, was a Soviet design.

missions should a spacecraft become stranded in Earth orbit. ASTP would also keep NASA in the manned spaceflight game during the long development of the Space Shuttle (see following chapter). In the longer term, the potential for technical advances and cost savings from pooled expertise was irresistible. While the engineers worked feverishly on developing a system for uniting two defiantly incompatible spacecraft (see panel, above), the astronauts had their own barriers to overcome. NASA's crew consisted of Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Deke Slayton, effectively NASA's chief astronaut (see p.94). The Soyuz 19 crew were to be Alexei Leonov (see panel, below) and Valery


the astp docking module


Docking the Apollo and Soyuz modules would be a major challenge - the docking attachments on each spacecraft were incompatible, as were the atmospheres inside them. To solve these problems, the engineers designed an adaptor with suitable docking points at either end, and an airlock system in between, to allow the crews to make a gradual transition from one atmosphere to the other. During launch, the adaptor module - which was 3.15m (lO'Aft) long with a diameter of 1.40 m (4'/2ft) - was stowed beneath the Apollo CSM, just like a lunar module. After reaching orbit, the CSM turned round, linked with docking module, and pulled it free.

the astp docking module

System nozzles

CM roll, pitch, yaw engines

Apollo Service Module radiators

Apollo Command Module

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Service Module Engine nozzle

meeting in space

(Left) Soyuz 19, photographed from the Apollo CSM, as it approaches for docking. (Above) Alexei Leonov and Thomas Stafford hold the flags of their respective countries during a broadcast for Soviet television.

planning on earth

NASA built a mock-up Soyuz at Houston for use in training. Here cosmonaut Leonov and astronaut Stafford pore over procedures for the orbital rendezvous.

meeting in space

(Left) Soyuz 19, photographed from the Apollo CSM, as it approaches for docking. (Above) Alexei Leonov and Thomas Stafford hold the flags of their respective countries during a broadcast for Soviet television.

to the other several times, and though the tasks they carried out were largely related to ceremony and public relations, there were also practical tests of the docking module, with the spacecraft briefly undocking and then uniting once again, before finally going their separate ways.

After a successful return to Earth for both spacecraft, the crews did the usual round of press conferences, photocalls, and ceremonials. But the political mood was changing again, and as relations cooled once more between the superpowers, there would be no repeat of the mission. It would be another two decades before a second handshake in orbit would take place.

Kubasov. All five crew members, as well as their backups, had to go through intensive language training alongside their other studies. The crews, and many other members of the technical staff, also visited each other's training facilities and familiarized themselves with the other spacecraft's systems

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