SP-401 Skylab, Classroom in Space



[175] The students associated with Skylab had the rare experience of participating in a unique labo-ratory for scientific research. If some of their experiments did not meet their expectations, then they learned the lesson that results of scientific research are no more predictable in space than they are on Earth.

A prime objective of the Skylab student project was to stimulate careers in science for those high school students who exhibited incipient interest. The degree to which this goal was achieved is illustrated by the final report of Gregory Merkel:

My acceptance as a winner and finalist in the Skylab student project came as quite a surprise to me, and was to become very influential in the decisions I was in the process of making regarding my plans for college. I had already been accepted at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and tentatively planned on majoring in art.

Art and science have both been consuming interests throughout my life, and the need to choose one over the other as a major in college was a decision which had many times been an anguishing one. The acceptance of my student project proposal now gave a new dimension to the situation.

Early that spring was the first gathering of all the students at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. It was here that the decision was made that my experiment could not be performed on Skylab. The reason was simple enough, and there seemed no way around it . . . there was really no way in which the experiment could be properly executed.

In an effort to keep me involved in the Skylab program I was told that I would have an opportunity to work with one of the principal investigators on his experiment. Since I expressed that astronomy was one of my growing interests, it was decided that I would become affiliated with one of the astronomical experiments aboard Skylab, the specific experiment not chosen at that time.

Consequently over the summer I did extensive reading on various subjects in astronomy, and as my interest in the subject grew I decided to major in physics and astronomy at the university.

In summary, the experiences I've had as a result of the Skylab student project have all been beneficial. I would say that the most important result of this association was the 2 years I spent as a physics and astronomy major, a course of action which I might not have taken otherwise. In being compelled to delve more deeply into astronomy I've learned things which have had an extremely profound impact on my entire philosophy. I cannot overemphasize how important this understanding of the universe has been in establishing for me an integrated philosophy and in affecting my way of thinking.

When the student project was originally conceived, it was expected that 5 or 6 experiments could be accommodated. As the concept developed 25 students enjoyed the experience of participating in a major space research program, with 19 experiments involved in the flight of Skylab.

The enthusiastic response of students from across the country who submitted proposals as an extracurricular activity demonstrated a strong interest in space. The quality, scientific depth, and understanding of space technology embodied in many of these student proposals greatly impressed the scientists of the Skylab program.

The neutron experiment of Terry Quist provoked enough interest in the scientific community to influence planning for a similar but more sensitive experiment on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. The interest in and failure of Roger Johnston's capillary studies also prompted planning for a similar experiment on the same joint Soviet-American spaceflight.

Every student involved was afforded a unique learning opportunity and contact with the world of scientific research that would have been otherwise [176] impossible. In addition, the general public enjoyed a more personal identification with space exploration through exposure to the enthusiasm of these students. It is to be hoped that more students will be able to learn through participation in future space programs.

Both the student project and the science demonstration program proved that significant investigations can be accomplished in space with simple "carry-on" or "suitcase" experiments. Extension of this concept will enable the development of simple but scientifically significant experiments that can be performed in space at nominal cost in the coming years.