50 years ago, NASA prepared to launch America’s first space station

Excerpt from the July 4, 1970 issue of Science News

a photo of Skylab

Skylab enabled record-setting scientific observations despite its short tenure in space.


cover of  Science News, July 4, 1970

Power for Skylab, Science News, July 4, 1970

The largest solar cell array system for electrical power ever devised for a spacecraft is now being completed…. The solar array will be used for the workshop and telescope components of the Skylab cluster to be launched as a space station forerunner.


One might think Skylab was cursed. Astronauts there made unprecedented observations of Earth and the sun, and set new records for time spent in space — but many misfortunes befell the early NASA space station. Skylab’s May 1973 launch damaged its solar panels. Astronauts, who arrived on their first mission to the station about two weeks later, salvaged one panel, but not without a lot of frustration (SN: 6/2/73, p. 352). E­quipment failures plagued a second and third mission, and NASA abandoned the station in early 1974. But the space agency’s Skylab problems were far from over. Despite NASA’s efforts to keep the station in orbit, Skylab broke up in Earth’s atmosphere in 1979 and scattered debris across Western Australia. Luckily, no one got hurt.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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