First Manned Skylab Mission, and Magellan Aerobraking

Forty years ago today — May 25, 1973 — a Saturn 1B rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying the first crew to inhabit the Skylab space station.

(Artist’s cutaway illustration of Skylab, from 1972. NASA image.)

The Skylab 2 mission placed astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., Paul J. Weitz, and Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin aboard the station for just under a month.

The astronauts had to make substantial repairs of launch damage to make the station habitable, beginning with deploying and attaching a sunshade — which they dubbed a “parasol” — to keep the interior cool. They also had to release one solar array that had become stuck during deployment. Once the repair work was done, “the crew conducted solar astronomy and Earth resources experiments, medical studies, and five student experiments” over the course of their 28-day stay.

The crew returned to Earth on June 22, 1973. You can read more on this Skylab mission page or this Skylab 2 page.

In other space history, on this date 20 years ago, the Magellan radar-mapping spacecraft began a 70-day aerobraking maneuver to circularize its orbit around Venus. Magellan was the first spacecraft to use aerobraking, and by doing so saved fuel for future maneuvers.


Editor’s Note: While I’m on holiday over the next week, Space history items may be late, combined in odd ways, or even nonexistent. Sorry for any inconvenience. (Sort-of sorry, that is.)

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