Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Let Skylab be a reminder of what happens to a neglected space station
Posted by John Keller
Everyone remember Skylab? You know, that orbiting laboratory that NASA operated as America's first space station from 1973 until, neglected, its orbit decayed in 1979 and Skylab burned up in the Earth's atmosphere before its remains crashed in the Southern Hemisphere -- some of it on Australia.
Such a waste.
Yes I know, there were REASONS that Skylab met such an ignominious end, most of them involving money, or the lack thereof. Skylab was a victim of NASA's success in the Apollo program that landed men on the moon for the first time. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, 1969, Apollo 11? Of course you remember all that.
What evolved from that summer day in 1969 when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon in the lunar module, within several years, was a collective yawn from the public after the first few moon missions. Everyone wondered what was next. Well what was next was the Skylab space station, but after the first moon landing even Skylab wasn't all that exciting anymore.
So for Skylab, funding ran short, and the orbiting lab was mothballed. The plan was for the yet-to-be-developed U.S. space shuttle to refurbish Skylab and reinvigorate that space station program, which fallen into disuse.
The problem with that plan was the space shuttle didn't get developed in time to save Skylab. NASA couldn't boost it to a higher orbit, and the Earth's gravity eventually sucked the orbiting lab to its doom.
Now are you wondering why I brought this up? Well, indications are that we're ready to go through Skylab Part II. The International Space Station, the multi-nation legacy of Skylab and an early Russian space station called Mir, is ready to be abandoned. Space experts are starting to fret that chances are increasing of losing the newest Space Station.
The latest chapter began with the crash of a Russian rocket that was supposed to resupply the Space Station recently due to malfunction, leaving the International Space Station short of food, water, fuel, and other essentials.
The Space Station's current crew most likely will have to leave it before another resupply mission can be attempted. Now where do we see this going? Is it sounding familiar?
I'm wondering if, due to federal budget cuts here and around the world, the International Space Station could share the same fate as Skylab. What a coincidence that would be; can't you see the scenario unfolding? Lack of money, lack of interest, lack of a way even to get to the orbiting lab.
I wish I didn't see it happening like this, but I do. Here's another delicious twist on dwindling government money. On 20 July 1969 I was a 10-year-old kid on vacation at McGrath State Beach, a campground in California, listening on a transistor radio as Armstrong and Aldrin maneuvered the Apollo 11 lunar module to the lunar surface.
This campground where I listened to history in the making is scheduled to close permanently this fall. The reason: not enough money to operate it and fix a crucial sewer line.