May 25 – Launch of Skylab 2 (SL-2)

Skylab 2, launched today in 1973, was the first manned mission to NASA’s orbiting Skylab space station, prior to setting a new record of 28 days for the longest time spent in space (back in those days it was a lot more about setting records to get one over on the Russians than it is now). The actual Skylab station had already been launched, unmanned, on May 14th, in what was to be the final mission of the gigantic Saturn V rocket.

The Skylab Orbiting Space Station (image credit: NASA).

The crew comprised three astronauts; a famous veteran and two rookies. Flight commander, Charles “Pete” Conrad, third man on the Moon, was on his fourth mission, pilot Paul Weitz was making the first of his two (the other would be on the maiden voyage of the shuttle Challenger), and Joseph Kerwin was on his only venture beyond the atmosphere (which made him the first physician in space).

The crew of SL-2 (image credit: NASA).Fb

Following their launch atop a Saturn 1B, at 13:00 UTC, the crew took less than a day to reach Skylab, after which they set about trying to minimise the impact of the damage the staion had sustained at launch. It was missing its micrometeorite shield and part of the solar power array. Also, the remaining solar panel was jammed by a strap, possibly from the meteorite shield.

A partially deployed solar array, and the errant strap preventing it from unfurling (image credit: NASA)

Fortunately, it was known there would be a few issues before the crew lifted-off, so launch was delayed by ten days to allow for training on how to conduct repairs in orbit. It took some doing (they almost reached double figures in docking attempts, and had to use a foldable parasol to protect parts of the already blistered station from overheating) but eventually Skylab was brought up to a level that would allow future mission to be less stressful.

Skylab 2 Mission Patch. Spot the not-so-deliberate mistake? (Image credit: NASA)

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