NASA Skylab: 1969 To 1979 (All Modules) by David Baker (book review).

February 16, 2018 | By | Reply More

In many ways, looking back, the NASA Skylab was a makeshift idea on a budget. Take a section of the Apollo rocket and turn it into an orbiting workshop. Originally, this was to be a spent rocket in orbit and hence the term, ‘wet’ workshop. This was then changed to launching an unused section and the term ‘dry’ workshop, fitted out for its astronaut crew. As such, Skylab was America’s only self-owned space station. A far cry from what was to follow. I was surprised that of the fictional comparisons, ‘2001’s big space station dual wheel wasn’t mentioned here but that was only a pipedream in 1968.

Looking at the design of the Skylab interior, I wish there had been more said about the orientation of the Skylab to the space module. Granted in zero gravity, it doesn’t make much difference which way was up but considering it is essentially on its side, you would have to wonder why no one considered why it wasn’t just tilted upright. As I read, this did become more apparent. More so, as the X-shaped solar panels was designed to power the telescope which then made the orientation sensible.

I liked the information about the dining arrangements on-board and how each astronaut had their own choice of colour-coded food. It did make me wonder if any of the teams on-board ever did a swap though and were they experimenting with strong tasting foods as they prefer on the International Space Station today. Something has always puzzled me was what did they do about the sweat the crews must have lost as it must surely have floated around. At the end of the book, the astronauts weren’t keen using the enclosed shower provided as the water tended to stick to their bodies.

In many respects, the use of Skylab was to test astronauts for longevity in space. At the time, the longest had been a Russian flight of 24 days. Even with EVAs, the Americans had only done 8 in space up to that time. With Skylab, 8 EVAs, although Baker doesn’t tot up in a chart, and the last team were on-board for 84 days.

There’s a nice touch to learn that the interior had a passive colour scheme for the benefit of the crew. I did have a ponder on this and wonder if the early SF films where everything was white contributed to changing this.

The sampling of experiments carried out on-board Skylab focus on living in space. I wish David Baker had also included the results but that’s the scientist in me.

Seeing the problems the three astronaut teams had to sort out does show how makeshift Skylab was and probably contributed to the learning experience they had. It was also equipped with a teletype so typed instructions could be sent up rather than the crew having to write it down from verbal and ultimately saved time. The likes of the Internet was still some 25 years away. The second team also had the space-sickness, something that is now more familiar with the International Space Station when they get their space-legs. There’s a lot more information here that I wasn’t aware of when it was still going on.

I’m only picking out a sampling of the information here. David Baker provided a lot of technical detail that you could even build your own scaled model version. That made me think and a quick check on-line reveals there currently isn’t one so the model-makers amongst you take note, especially as the Apollo rocket model kit is still out there.

Whatever, without the three crewed missions on-board Skylab, the space stations that followed wouldn’t have had the needed information about living in space and is an important part of Man’s progress in space. As always these books are informative and I learnt a lot. The reality of creating a real space station against Science Fiction creations was never going to be the same but it also made a difference to our genre as well.

GF Willmetts

February 2018

(pub: Haynes. 204 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78521-065-5)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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