[iii] Skylab exceeded all early expectations by being manned for 28, 59, and 84 days respectively, a full 31 days longer than planned. Even today, more than three years since its launch, people around the world are only a small part of the way through evaluating all the data that were returned from this sophisticated space endeavor. Scientists will continue gleaning knowledge for years to come, even as Skylab goes on orbiting the Earth, spent but having more than fulfilled its purpose.
Over the years, Skylab evolved in the wake of the lunar landing program. In early 1970 the configuration had solidified, based on conversion of the S-IVB stage of the Apollo launch vehicle. Now came the operational fine tuning to turn concept into reality. How do you compress the most out of the vehicle into each working day ? What kind of give and take between ground and crew will optimize performance and value of the flights?
All was ready by May of 1973. Skylab 1 was launched on 14 May and within seconds the meteoroid shield was lost; NASA faced its biggest and most expensive problem thus far in the manned flight program. But Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo had conditioned the team for the rigors of a quick solution. The ten days between the Skylab 1 and 2 launches were perhaps NASA's "finest hours." Plans were formulated, priorities for solutions were established, and repair equipment was designed, while the ground controllers kept Skylab 1 alive. The newly designed equipment was mocked up, tested, and turned into flight hardware almost overnight. These efforts were successful because of the dedication and teamwork of thousands of NASA and contractor personnel. By the end of the Skylab program in February 1974, all scheduled flight objectives of the Skylab program had been accomplished, plus other objectives added as the program progressed.
This chronology relates only the beginning; the best is yet to come from Skylab.
Charles Conrad, Jr.