I fondly recall one Saturday morning in 1974 when my eleven year-old self was sitting on the floor in front of the TV, eating a big mixing bowl full of cereal and watching cartoons, when all of a sudden, a CBS News Special Report called What is Skylab All About? flashed upon the screen. Thanks to the wise, reassuring voice of veteran news anchor Walter Cronkite, I soon learned that, although its name might suggest otherwise, Skylab was actually not the world's first meth lab in space. Indeed, it was simply the United States' first space station to reach orbit. (A couple of earlier versions tragically blew up on the launch pad the year before. Just kidding.)
On May 14, 1973, little ol' Skylab was launched and circled the Earth until 1979. It's kind of odd that only three crews ever visited it during that whole six-year time span. What was up with that? Did the astronauts get bored with the micro-gravity lab and solar observatory telescope? Did they invite President Nixon (also known as Tricky Dick) to accompany them--on the condition that he bring some booze and strippers--only to learn that he had been forced to resign because of that whole Watergate mess? Or perhaps Skylab's orbit simply decayed and NASA was too late developing the Space Shuttle to nudge it back up?
Bingo! The latter is exactly what happened. Although NASA had big plans to conduct a lot of scientific experiments on it throughout the '80s, Skylab is gone, bitches! On July 11, 1979, the station burned up in the atmosphere--although some small debris from it did end up raining down upon a narrow band of the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. It's a shame Skylab is gone, bro, cuz check this out: we could've, like, set up the Autumn Bowl inside it and had ourselves a killer orbital clubhouse. I've heard that zero gravity can work wonders on your vert skills! Not to worry, though, cuz the International Space Station is due to be completed in 2010â€¦if no more shuttles blow up. Let's keep our fingers crossed, cuz the Autumn Bowl is waiting!
Public Impact: Although over a decade of research and development and millions of dollars were spent on Skylab, I think I'm the only person who even remembers it. But, at least it could--no, it will--lead to future skateparks in space.