Table 2-47. Chronology of Skylab Development and Operations





Feb. 20, 1959


NASA Deputy Administrator Hugh L. Dryden told the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences that one of the agency's long-range goals was a permanent manned orbiting laboratory. During the following spring, several groups within NASA studied the concept of an orbiting laboratory as one project that might follow Project Mercury. (In its 1960 budget, NASA requested $2 million to study methods of constructing a manned laboratory or converting the Mercury spacecraft into a two-man laboratory.)

June 8, 1959

In a report prepared for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, Wernher von Braun suggested that a space station could be designed around a spent booster stage (a concept that was later called the "wet workshop").

July 10, 1959

A conference at Langley Research Center (LRC) considered the problems associated with developing the technology to build, launch, and operate a manned space station.

Apr. 20-22, 1960

The Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, NASA and RAND Corp. sponsored a Manned Space Stations Symposium.

Oct. 1961

Emanuel Schnitzer of LRC suggested using Apollo hardware to build a space laboratory. The "Apollo X" vehicle would consist of a standard command and service module (CSM) with an added inflatable spheroid structure and transfer tunnel. This suggestion led others within NASA to think about adapting Apollo-developed hardware to laboratories and stations.

Apr. 1961

Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) personnel prepared a preliminary document that outlined areas of investigation for a space station study program.

May 10, 1962

John C. Fischer, Jr., of Lewis Research Center suggested a two-phase approach to a space station program: first, a manned station that would operate for four to six years, being resupplied and remanned by ferry craft, followed by an inflatable station with artificial gravity.

July 31-Aug. 1, 1962

LRC hosted a forum for NASA researchers interested in space station work.

Sept. 28, 1962

At a meeting at NASA Headquarters, personnel from the Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF), the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART), MSC, Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), and LRC agreed that the concept of a space station was an important one for the future and that advanced technological work should proceed at the centers.

Mar. 1, 1963

MSC proposed constructing an 18-man station from hardware under development for Apollo.

Mar. 28, 1963

Abraham Hyatt of NASA Headquarters organized a task team to study the concept of a manned earth-orbiting laboratory.

Apr. 11, 1963

The leaders of MSC's Flight Operations Division met with LRC personnel to discuss the Virginia center's proposed four-man Manned Orbital Research Laboratory. On June 24, LRC announced that The Boeing Co. and Douglas Aircraft Co., Inc., had been selected to study the concept.

Aug. 17-Sept. 14,1963

NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD) signed a joint agreement to coordinate their studies of advanced space exploration, including any manned space station concepts.

Dec. 10, 1963

DoD announced that funds that had been set aside for the X-20 Dyna Soar project, which had been cancelled, would be rechanneled to the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) project. NASA would provide technical support to this exclusively military project.

March 1964

The Lockheed-California Co. delivered the results of its study of a rotating manned orbital research laboratory. The laboratory, which would be launched by a Saturn V, would accommodate a crew of 24 and be operational for I to 5 years.

Aug. 17, 1964

In a revival of the "Apollo X" concept, MSC's Spacecraft Integration Branch offered its proposal for an orbiting laboratory. The 2-man laboratory would be launched by a Saturn IB for a 14- to 45-day mission. Other configurations included a 3-man, 45-day mission; a 3-man, 45-day mission in a double-laboratory module; and a 3-man, 120-day mission in an independent systems module.

Dec. 11, 1964

LRC awarded Boeing a 10-month contract to study the feasibility of designing and launching a manned orbital telescope.

June 18, 1965

LRC awarded Douglas a follow-on study contract for the Manned Orbital Research Laboratory, which would emphasize the Apollo Extension System effort (use of Apollo-era technology).

July 30, 1965

Lockheed-California delivered its report to MSC on a modular multipurpose space station. Configurations included: 45-day, 3-man, 1-compartment lab; 1-year, 6-man, 2-compartment lab; 90-day, 3- to 6-man, 2-compartment lab; 1- to 5-year, 6-to 9-man, 6-compartment station; and 5- to 10-year, 24- to 36-man, Y-configuration station.

Aug. 6-10, 1965

NASA Headquarters established the Saturn/Apollo Applications Office within OMSF. The new office would be responsible for the Apollo Extension System effort, among other projects. David M. Jones was acting director, John H. Disher deputy director.

Aug. 20, 1965

Designers at MSFC began seriously to investigate the concept of a Saturn IVB-stage orbital workshop - the in-orbit conversion of a spent S-IVB stage to an orbital laboratory by an Apollo crew launched separately. MSFC asked for the assistance of MSC and Douglas, the manufacturer of the stage, in this four-month design study.

Aug. 25, 1965

President Lyndon B. Johnson approved DoD's development of the MOL.

Sept. 10, 1965

The Apollo Extension System effort was renamed the Apollo Applications Pro-gram. NASA Headquarters assigned MSC responsibility for spacecraft development, crew activities, mission control and flight operations, and payload integration; MSFC responsibility for launch vehicle development; and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) responsibility for prelaunch and launch activities. William B. Taylor, director of the Apollo Applications Program, named Joseph G. Lundholm manager of Apollo applications experiments.

Oct. 20, 1965

Officials from MSC and MSFC held their first orbital workshop coordination meeting. In December, the orbital workshop (OWS) became a separate project at MSFC, with the support of OMSF.


North American Aviation, Inc., delivered to MSC its technical proposal for the Apollo applications-era CSM.

Jan. 1966

Douglas submitted its summary report on the Manned Orbital Research Laboratory to LRC. The study demonstrated the feasibility of launching, operating, and maintaining an orbital laboratory and examined how such a laboratory could be used.

Feb. 11, 1966

MSFC submitted to NASA Headquarters a project management proposal for an Apollo telescope mount (ATM) to be used with an Apollo-derived orbital laboratory or an Apollo spacecraft (lunar module). The ATM was based on an engineering and definition study completed by Ball Brothers Research Corp. (Sept. 1965-Apr. 1966).

Mar. 21, 1966

The Military Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations recommended combining NASA's Apollo Applications Program with the Air Force's MOL. NASA and DoD created a Manned Space Flight Experiments Board to coordinate their experiment programs.

Mar. 23, 1966

In their first schedule, personnel in the Apollo Applications Program planned 26 Saturn IB and 19 Saturn V launches, including 3 S-IVB wet workshops, 3 S-V orbital laboratories, and 4 ATMs.

Apr. 18, 1966

MSC granted study contracts to Douglas, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., and McDonnell Douglas Corp. for definition studies on the OWS experiment sup-port module (by Aug. called the airlock module).

May 20-21, 1966

Representatives from NASA and the Air Force met to discuss proposed medical experiments for the Apollo Applications Program and MOL.

June 1, 1966

NASA Headquarters selected Martin Marietta Corp. and Lockheed to perform final definition studies for the payload integration aspect of Apollo application missions.

July 6, 1966

George M. Low became acting manager of MSC's new Apollo Applications Pro-gram Office, Robert F. Thompson the assistant manager; Leland F. Belew became MSFC's Apollo applications manager. An Experiments Office was also established at MSFC.

July 13, 1966

A Saturn/Apollo Applications Mission Planning Task Force led by William D. Green, Jr., was created to oversee and coordinate the mission definition process for proposed Apollo applications missions.

July 13, 1966

Program management for the ATM was assigned to MSFC.

July 14, 1966

NASA and DoD established a Joint Manned Space Flight Policy Committee to coordinate their manned spaceflight activities.

July 18, 1966

David Jones assumed management responsibility at NASA Headquarters for the development of the OWS and the experiment support module.

July 26, 1966

It was formally announced at NASA Headquarters that OMSF had full responsibility for Apollo and Apollo applications missions; the Office of Space Science and Applications would select experiments to be flown aboard these missions and analyze the results; OART would be responsible for choosing technical experiments; the Office of Tracking and Data Acquisition would satisfy the communications re- quirements for the experiments.

Aug. 19, 1966

NASA selected McDonnell Douglas to manufacture an airlock module (formerly called the spent stage experiment support module) for the Apollo Applications Program by which astronauts would enter the empty hydrogen tank of a spent S-IVB stage (OWS). A contract was approved on Dec. 6

Oct. 25, 1966

MSFC distributed its research and development plan for the OWS.

Nov. 8, 1966

NASA Headquarters announced plans for the first 4 Apollo applications missions: SAA-209 - 28-day manned test flight of the block 11 CSM; SAA-210 - launch of an unmanned OWS with airlock module and multiple docking adapter; SAA-211 - 56- day visit to the OWS by an Apollo crew; and SAA-212 - unmanned lunar module- ATM flight.

Nov. 30, 1966

Charles W. Mathews became director of Saturn/Apollo applications at NASA Headquarters.

Apr. 18- 19, 1967

Personnel from MSC and MSFC met to review the S-IVB stage for acceptability as a habitable vehicle. This was followed in May by a preliminary design review to evaluate the basic design approach the team was taking toward the spent-stage OWS.

July 26, 1967

NASA selected Martin Marietta to perform payload (experiments and experiments support equipment) integration tasks. This contract was definitized on Jan. 30, 1969. On the same day, the agency awarded Boeing a contract for long-lead-time materials for two additional Saturn Vs.

Oct. 3, 1967

In a revised schedule (see Mar. 23, 1966) that reflected budget cutbacks, NASA Headquarters announced that it was planning 4 Apollo applications lunar-activity missions, 17 Saturn IB launches, 7 Saturn V launches, 2 OWSs, I Saturn V workshop, and 3 ATMs.

Nov. 18-19, 1967

At meetings held at NASA Headquarters and at MSFC, representatives from MSC proposed a dry workshop (also called the Saturn V workshop) as a better choice for an Apollo applications laboratory; the adoption of the dry workshop concept would solve the habitability problems they had been having with the spent-stage concept.

Dec. 4, 1967

Thompson became manager of MSC's Apollo Applications Program Office.

Jan. 9, 1968

Additional budget cuts required another change to the Apollo applications mission schedule (see Oct. 3, 1967): 3 Saturn IB launches, 3 Saturn V launches, I OWS, I Saturn V workshop, I ATM to be flown with a workshop and 2 lunar missions. The first OWS launch was scheduled for Apr. 1970.

Jan. 9, 1968

MSFC awarded Parker-Elmer Corp. a contract to develop the telescopes for the ATM.

Jan. 16-17, 1968

A preliminary design review of the multiple docking adapter for the OWS was held at MSFC.

Jan. 23, 1968

The airlock module was given the additional task of housing the electrical power conditioning, storage, and distribution system.

Apr. 3-15, 1968

In response to increased budget cuts, NASA managers concluded that the most practical near-term Apollo applications mission was a simplified Saturn IB-launched workshop.

June 4, 1968

In another schedule revision (see fan. 9, 1968), NASA announced that Apollo applications missions planning now called for 11 Saturn IB launches, I Saturn V launch, 1 OWS, I backup OWS, I Saturn V workshop and I ATM. The first OWS launch was scheduled for Nov. 1970.

Sept. 23-26, 1968

A preliminary design review of the ATM was held at MSFC.

Dec. 1, 1968

Technical management of the airlock module was transferred from MSC to MSFC.

Dec. 18, 1968

William C. Schneider became director of the Apollo Applications Program.

Jan. 8, 1969

An Apollo Applications Program baseline configuration review was held at NASA Headquarters; a second review took place on May 22.

Feb. 26, 1969

NASA announced it would negotiate with North American Rockwell for modifications to four Apollo spacecraft for Apollo applications missions.

May 21, 1969

At a meeting at MSC, NASA personnel from Headquarters and the centers discussed what options the Apollo Applications Program could recommend. Most of the discussions concerned using a dry rather than a wet workshop. On the 23rd, MSFC Director von Braun voted for a Saturn V-launched dry workshop. On the 26th, MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth also cast his center's lot with the dry concept.

May 10-23, 1969

DoD cancelled its MOL program. NASA requested that the MOL food and diet contract with Whirlpool Corp. and the spacesuit development contract with Hamilton Standard Div., United Aircraft Corp., be transferred to it.

July 18, 1969

Based on information presented on July 8-9, NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine approved the shift from a wet to a dry OWS. The latest mission schedule (see also June 4, 1968) left only four launches, the first of which would take place in July 1972. The change to the dry concept was announced to the public on the 22rd.

Aug. 4, 1969

Seven MOL astronaut-trainees were transferred from the Air Force to NASA.

Aug. 8, 1969

MSFC definitized its contract with McDonnell Douglas for two OWSs; the second workshop would serve as a backup.

Feb. 13, 1970

Kenneth S. Kleinknecht became manager of MSC's Apollo Applications Program.

Feb. 17, 1970

The Apollo Applications Program was renamed the Skylab Program.

Mar. 7, 1970

In stating his proposed space goals for the 1970s, President Richard M. Nixon included an experimental space station as one of his six objectives.

May 26, 1970

The ATM critical design review was completed at MSFC; this review gave formal approval to the ATM design.

Aug. 10-14, 1970

The airlock module critical design review was held at McDonnell Douglas.

Aug. 24-27, 1970

The multiple docking adapter critical design review was held at Martin Marietta.

Aug. 28, 1970

MSFC modified its contract with McDonnell Douglas to reflect the switch from the wet to the dry workshop.

Aug. 31, 1970

NASA's latest launch schedule (see July 18, 1969) called for the launch of Skylab I on Nov. 1, 1972.

Sept. 14-18,1970

An OWS critical design review was conducted at McDonnell Douglas.

Jan. 19-21, 1971

A solar array system critical design was held at TRW, Inc.

Apr. 13, 1971

The most recent published launch schedule (see also Aug. 31, 1970) listed Apr. 30, 1973, as the date of the first Skylab launch.

May 9, 1971

A flight hardware meteoroid shield development test was performed on the OWS flight article. Although the shield did not deploy fully and took longer than expected to deploy, it was concluded that development would have been successful if performed in orbit.

Sept. 24, 1971

McDonnell Douglas delivered the Skylab payload shroud, the first major piece of hardware to be completed, to KSC.

Nov. 15, 1971

NASA Headquarters formed a Manned Space Flight Team to conduct a mid-term review of Skylab; the team's report, delivered in Jan. 1972, expressed confidence that the Apr. 30, 1973, launch date could be met.

Jan. 1972

The prime crews for the Skylab missions were announced: Skylab 2 - Charles Conrad, Jr., Joseph P. Kerwin, and Paul J. Weitz; Skylab 3 - Alan L. Bean, Owen K. Garriott, and Jack R. Lousma; and Skylab 4 - Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue (the launch of the workshop would be termed Skylab 1).

Apr. 6, 1972

NASA and the National Science Teachers Association announced the 25 finalists in the Skylab Student project who had proposed feasible flight experiments for Skylab.

June 7-8, 1972

A launch vehicle design certification review was held at MSCF; launch vehicles for Skylab I and 2 were found acceptable.

June 21, 1972

A CSM design certification review was held at MSC; the CSM was found accept-able.

July 18-19, 1972

The first CSM for Skylab was delivered to KSC.

Sept. 15, 1972

A mission operations design certification review was held at MSC; preparations for all mission operations requirements were found to be satisfactory.

Sept. 22, 1972

The ATM arrived at KSC.

Sept. 23, 1972

The Skylab 1 OWS was moved inside the vehicle assembly building at KSC.

Oct. 2-3, 1972

A modules and experiments design certification review was held at MSFC.

Oct. 3-29, 1972

During tests of the meteoroid shield at KSC, problems were encountered with it deploying properly. It was successfully deployed on the 22d and judged acceptable for flight.

Jan. 29-30, 1973

Checkout of the airlock module, multiple docking adapter, and ATM flight units was completed at KSC, and the units were mated to the OWS and the OWS to its Saturn V launch vehicle.

Feb. 19, 1973

Robert A. R. Parker was named Skylab program scientist.

Feb. 27, 1973

Mated Apollo spacecraft and Saturn IB launch vehicle (Skylab 2) were transferred from the vehicle assembly building to Launch Complex 39B.

Apr. 5, 1973

The flight readiness test for Skylab 2 was completed.

May 14, 1973

During the launch of the Skylab OWS (Skylab 1), the meteoroid shield failed to deploy properly; as a result one of the solar panels was torn off and the second one became jammed. The laboratory was placed in the desired near-circular orbit, but its internal temperature increased beyond acceptable limits for habitability. The launch of Skylab 2, scheduled for the 15th, was postponed.

May 22, 1973

A board of investigation was established to assess the anomalies that occurred dur-ing the launch of Skylab 1.

May 23-24, 1973

A design certification review was held for the revised Skylab 2 mission, during which the crew would erect a "parasol" of ultraviolet-resistant material (aluminized Mylar/nylon laminate) to protect the workshop from the heat of the sun. The parasol was conceived, developed, and constructed in seven days at the Johnson Space Center (JSC, formerly MSC).

May 25, 1973

Skylab 2 was launched successfully at 9:00 a.m. (all times EDT). Six hours later the Apollo spacecraft was in position to rendezvous with Skylab; the crew soft- docked at 5:56 p.m.

May 26, 1973

The Skylab 2 crew entered the OWS, finding a hot but habitable environment that allowed them to work for 10- to 15-minute intervals. The parasol was deployed in 2 1/2 hours, leading to an immediate temperature decrease in the workshop.

June 7, 1973

The Skylab 2 crew freed the undeployed solar array.

June 11, 1973

The mated Skylab 3 spacecraft and launch vehicle were moved to Launch Complex 39B.

June 22, 1973

Skylab 2 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 9:49 a.m. after a mission lasting more than 28 days. The crew was found to be in good health.

June 29, 1973

The Skylab 3 flight readiness test was completed.

July 28, 1973

Skylab 3 was launched successfully at 7:11 a.m. The crew docked with the laboratory 8 1/2 hours later.

Aug. 6, 1973

A more refined thermal parasol developed at MSFC was erected over the original one, lowering the cabin temperature even more.

Aug. 13, 1973

NASA Headquarters officials moved to delete the backup Skylab workshop from the program schedule.

Aug. 14, 1973

The mated Skylab 4 spacecraft and launch vehicle were moved to Launch Complex 39B.

Sept. 5, 1973

The Skylab 4 flight readiness test was completed.

Sept. 25, 1973

Skylab 3 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 6:20 p.m. after a mission lasting more than 59 days. The crew exhibited no adverse reactions to the lengthy visit

Nov. 6, 1973

Because hairline cracks were discovered in the fins of the S-IB launch vehicle, the launch was postponed from 10 to 16 Nov. while the fins were replaced.

Nov. 16, 1973

Skylab 4 was launched successfully at 10:01 a.m. Docking with the workshop took place 8 hours later.

Dec. 25-29, 1973

The Skylab 4 crew photographed the Comet Kohoutek prior to and after perihelion. This photography assignment was added to the original experiments agenda when the comet was discovered in March 1973.

Feb. 8, 1974

Skylab 4 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:17 a.m. after a mission lasting more than 84 days. The crew returned in good health. This mission concluded the program.

Mar. 5, 1974

Skylab program offices were closed down at NASA Headquarters and at the field centers.


Although program officials had predicted that Skylab's orbit would not start to decay until 1983 when Shuttle would be available to assist it during reentry, data examined by NASA and the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) indicated that decay and reentry would take place much sooner. Active ground control of Skylab in a low-drag attitude was initiated to extend the decay date.

Jan. 1979

NASA officials decided to attempt a form of drag modulation (the drag of the vehicle and its flight duration would be altered by ground control) to control Skylab's orbital decay and reentry position.

June 1979

The vehicle, becoming difficult to control, was placed in a more suitable attitude. Preparations for Skylab's reentry were coordinated among NASA, the Department of State, the Federal Preparedness Agency, DoD, and the Federal Aviation Ad-ministration. Studies were made of population distribution between 50° north and 50° south latitude and the predicted reentry footprints. It was determined that the ground controllers would lose their command of the spacecraft at an altitude of 130-139 kilometers, after which it would tumble and change its drag; to combat this the controllers would intentionally tumble Skylab at 139 kilometers. By so doing, the pieces of the vehicle left after reentry would have a better chance of landing in the ocean and not impacting a continent. In late June, NORAD predicted the reentry date as July 11. Impact could possibly take place near such major cities as Caracas, Lagos, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, or Washington. But the trend in predictions was generally that the last revolution would be over the lowest population area of all.

July 11, 1979

Because predictions made at NORAD and MSFC at 12 hours before reentry put the impact point just off the east coast of North America, NASA delayed the reentry by 30 minutes by tumbling the spacecraft at 148 kilometers, which moved the target area to a long stretch over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Skylab overshot the target area, with pieces of debris falling into the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. The reentry footprint was a narrow band (approximately 4° wide), beginning at about 48° south, 87° east and ending at about 12° south, 144° east. No in-juries or property damage was reported.

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