The Skylab

The Skylab is a space engineering and science laboratory. It was launched into the earth’s orbit on the 14th of May in 1973 by a Saturn V rocket. It was the United States’ first-ever and only space station launched into earth’s orbit. It is also the second-ever space station that a human visited. The space station weighed 170,000 pounds and is the heaviest space station today.

During the Skylab’s lifetime, it housed many experiments on UV-astronomy, observations of the earth, orbitary movements, and X-ray-based detailed studies of the sun. It also housed laboratories where researchers studied the effects of microgravity and a solar observatory with an Apollo Telescope. 

The Skylab space station orbited earth between 1973 and 1979. The Skylab spent 2,249 days in orbit. It was visited three times by crews. The crews were known as Skylab 2 crew, the Skylab 3 crew, and the Skylab 4 crew. The Skylab was occupied for 171 days in 1973 and 1974.

The initial plan was for the Skylab to be refurbished; however, it began to decay due to delays. They could not stop the decay. As a result, the Skylab began to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. On the 10th of July 1979, Skylab’s final orbit began. The United States’ space officers tried to direct and control the Skylab’s fall to land in the Atlantic Ocean. However, due to a four per cent error in calculation, the Skylab fell about 300-miles to the east of Perth, in the West of Australia.

International Space Station against starlight

On the 12th of July 1979, at about 12:30 am, the Skylab spacecraft crossed over the Indian Ocean, headed towards Esperance. It was burning and began breaking up as it sped past. It broke into about twenty large pieces and several small pieces, which become strewn around Esperance, a small town and its farming areas, and around Rawlinna, a mining and rail Outpost.

We, at the Esperance Museum, began to build our collection. We collected several pieces of the Skylab strewn across the area. Today, our museum contains several of the artefacts that fell to earth from the Skylab.

These artefacts include oxygen tanks, metal fragments, huge nitrogen spheres made of titanium, insulation foams, the main hatch of the space station, circuit boards, and the Skylab’s freezer. The oxygen tank is one of the largest pieces that were recovered from the Skylab’s crash.

A model of the Skylab is set on a pedestal right outside the entrance of the museum. A plaque is set on the side of the display describing the space station and its crash to the town’s coastline.

A billboard is set close to the display. The Billboard states that “In 1979, a spaceship crashed over Esperance. We fined them $400 for littering. Paid in Full.” The money was paid by a highway radio presenter who raised the money on his Program. Today, the large cheque hangs over the remains of the Skylab.

Visit the Esperance Museum to see the Skylab display and the historic and valuable pieces displayed inside.

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