N&O staff photo by Karen Tam
It was 38 years ago today that NASA launched Skylab 1, its first manned space station. It orbited for six years, was visited three times and was host to numerous experiments, but in the end, the space station was more famous for coming down than it was for going up.
In July 1979, the world was watching as Skylab began its descent back toward Earth. Although officials predicted that two-thirds of the 77-ton space craft would burn up on re-entry and most of the rest would fall into the ocean, there was still a 600 billion to one chance of being hit by space debris. In the Triangle, that was a good excuse to party.
N&O staff writer Susan Spence Moe reported on the precautions and preparations here for Skylab's fall:
When Skylab drops out of the sky, probably between 2 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, even Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. will greet the re-entry of the 78-1/2 ton beast without a helmet.
"He will be unprotected," press secretary Gary Pearce said Monday. "He will face Skylab without fear."
Hard hats will be in vogue Wednesday night when Skylab goes disco at the Holiday Inn North. The hotel, which as declared itself the official Skylab crash site (complete with painted target), is co-hosting a public poolside party.
While a huge search light spans the sky hunting falling bits of Skylab, party goers will be treated to free beer, "space snacks" and science fiction films including clips from old "Star Trek" adventures.
Another Skylab party is slated for Friday afternoon at N.C. State University's Sigma Pi fraternity. Party-goers are encouraged to bring their own umbrellas and catcher's mitts.
For the few who took the threat more seriously, Lloyd's of London was offering special Skylab insurance.
Most North Carolina homeowners' insurance policies probably would consider Skylab "peril number 12" should it smash through their roof, according to Jackie K. Darden of the state Department of Insurance.
Skylab would be considered a "falling object" under the most common types of state homeowner insurance, she said. -- The News & Observer, 7/10/1979
In the end, hundreds of pieces of Skylab fell into remote areas of southwestern Australia with no immediate injuries.
Brad Rudolph, a Denver representative for the Seat-of-the-Pants Management Company sold more than 4,000 of these poster-board helmets, complete with an "early warning spike" claiming to provide .00193 nanoseconds of warning before Skylab hits its wearer. (AP photo)