[v] One of the most challenging projects in our nation's exploration of space was the Skylab program. The very concept of launching and operating a scientific laboratory in space, with teams of scientist-astronauts journeying out to operate it for periods of time, was awe inspiring.
The Skylab program was dedicated to the use of the unique environment and vantage point of space to increase our knowledge and understanding of Earth's importance to man's well-being and man's influence on Earth's ecology. It also represented a major step in manned spaceflight, serving as a bridge between the Apollo flights and the long-duration spaceflights of the future.
To accomplish this mission, Skylab was launched in May 1973, was placed in Earth orbit, and was visited and inhabited by three different crews during an 8-month period. Data were acquired by Skylab primarily through the conduct of experiments in physical science, biomedical science, Earth applications, and space applications. Skylab was a laboratory and workshop with unique features: a constant zero-gravity environment, sustained operation above Earth's atmosphere, and a continuous, broad view of Earth's surface.
One of the innovative features of Skylab was the decision to give talented high school students an opportunity to participate directly in a major national space project. In the Skylab student project, designed and administered by the National Science Teachers Association, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration invited students in U.S. high schools to submit proposals for experiments that could be performed on board Skylab by the astronauts during their tours of duty. The experiments were to be designed to make the best possible use of the Skylab environment. [vi] The purpose of the student project was to encourage interest in science and engineering careers.
The response was overwhelming and gratifying; several thousand entries were received from all over the nation. All entries were thoroughly screened on a regional basis, and the 305 regional winners were then judged again to select the 25 national winners.
This book has been prepared to share this innovation in our nation's space program. It describes the experiments designed by the students and reports what happened to those experiments in the close-packed space laboratory. It also describes the demonstrations performed on Skylab by the astronauts to show the effects of weightlessness.
Plans do not always work out as we hope they will, and there were disappointments. Some of the biological experiments were affected by the severe heat during the time before a shield could be deployed. We are reminded of the scientist's ability to compensate, with spirit and intelligence, for the limitations of the finest equipment. Surely the astronauts' repair of the damaged craft was one of the unforgettable episodes.
Progress is often based on just efforts. Skylab demonstrated that disciplined young people, when given the opportunity, can contribute on an adult level to such enterprises.
This book was not written for the scientist or engineer. Its language is not technical so that many people will be able to appreciate the splendid contribution of some very gifted high school students to one of our nation's most significant space projects. It is our hope that it may inspire other students and teachers to join in future space efforts where similar opportunities are offered.