Skylab-4: 50 years have passed since the first “strike” on the spacecraft | The science

In the history of space exploration, at least two cases of mutiny among astronaut crews have been recorded. The first occurred in 1968, when Cmdr. Apollo 7Wally Schirra, cold, feverish and irritable, his nose clogged with snot, disobeyed return protocol, refusing – he and his comrades – a helmet for fear of rupturing his eardrum due to the change in pressure. But the one that is considered first cosmic impactnow half a century old, occurred during the Skylab 4 mission, the third and final astronaut visit to the space laboratory launched by NASA, from late 1973 to early 1974.

By that time, the Soviet Union was already a couple of years ahead of Salyut 1 (which ended tragically with the death of three crew members on its return to Earth) and had just launched a second one into orbit. Skylab was built using the empty third stage of a lunar rocket Saturn 5: A shell that had plenty of space, and NASA engineers installed equipment inside to conduct dozens of experiments. The goal was to explore everything from the behavior of the body in conditions of weightlessness to new methods of processing materials. Also on board there was a solar telescope and elements that made the stay of the three astronauts more pleasant: separate bedrooms, a small kitchen and even a shower.

The laboratory’s launch was unsuccessful: a gust of wind tore off its insulating shield and meteorite protection, as well as one of its two solar panels. The other, although uninjured, was stuck in the closed position. Much of the first crew’s efforts will be focused on installing a new protective canopy and restoring more or less regular operation to the battered station.

The second crew continued repairs, but were able to develop an extensive program of experiments, including studying how spiders form their webs in zero gravity. They were in space for 59 days, more than double the previous mission.

The three Skylab 4 crew members (from left) – Edward J. Gibson, Gerald P. Carr and William R. Pogue – were photographed looking so beautiful at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 8, 1973.POT

The next flight in the program was entrusted to a team of novice astronauts Gerald Carr, William Pogue and Edward Gibson: none of them had ever been in space, which is important in this story. The goal was to achieve a stay of almost three months. Since this was Skylab’s last mission, the work program was very busy, and to make matters worse, the Sun, which should have been experiencing a period of relative calm, showed so much activity that it forced an increase in observations with telescopes.

There was so much to do that the astronauts were ordered to start work almost immediately, without giving them enough time to get used to the new feeling of weightlessness for the three of them. They suffered from dizziness and vomiting for hours, but decided to hide it from the flight directors. When this was discovered in a microphone-recorded conversation between the two, Alan Shepard, the legendary chief of the astronaut department, gave them a formal reprimand, the first the crew had ever received during space travel.

So the mission got off to a bad start. Perhaps, under the influence of the quarrel, the astronauts began to make trivial mistakes and fall further and further behind their experimental program. It didn’t help that Houston tried to control even the smallest details every minute, to the resentment of the three men.

Typically, planning an experiment required a couple of years of preparation. To take advantage of this latest flight, NASA opened the season and received hundreds of proposals just a couple of months in advance. Not surprisingly, there were so many unfinished business that the researchers had to constantly give instructions to the overloaded astronauts.

An aerial view of Skylab’s orbital workshop in Earth orbit in 1973.POT

Every day, Skylab received about 40 sheets of instructions on where to point the telescope and when to water the bean crop. As soon as they awoke, Carr, Pogue and Gibson discovered that the waiting teletype had spit out two meters of paper, full of instructions, formulas and procedures that needed to be completed in the next 24 hours.

Pogue later recalled that because some of the experiments were about astrophysics, the schedule was especially demanding: “They gave you a certain time, certain angles, etc., and you got a certain star. Well, if you don’t do it on time, angles and everything else are useless. They become obsolete.”

Unbearable discomfort

The first two teams were more or less happy with the experience; the third – no. In addition, some minor inconveniences began to irritate: cans of food did not fit in the heating pad and their contents always remained warm; personal hygiene towels appeared to be made of aluminum wool; The drinking water contained bubbles of dissolved gas, which caused constant winds. And the low atmospheric pressure forced them to communicate by shouting, even when they were only five meters away. Astronauts suffered from nasal congestion caused by a lack of gravity, which contributed to the accumulation of mucus in the sinuses. As a result, almost all the food turned out to be tasteless.

But the most unpleasant thing was that few things were in their places. Perhaps because the two previous crews did not keep order very carefully. In theory, inventory cataloging was sacred. Skylab contained about 40,000 items spread out across hundreds of cabinets; In Houston, six people and a computer were responsible for always knowing where everything was. But in practice, a certain chaos reigned on the space station.

And to make matters worse, there was no lighting inside the boxes, only points of light from the ceiling. Finding any object, from a camera to a tube of toothpaste, required careful examination of its interior with a flashlight.

Under these conditions, work was delayed and rest periods shortened. They typically did not sleep for more than 6 hours during a 16-hour shift in activity. In many cases, one experiment—for example, photographing solar activity or the newly arrived Comet Kohoutek—took three or four hours.

Pogue (left) and Carr place bags in a garbage chute.POT

On Christmas Day, Skylab’s trajectory kept it out of range of tracking stations throughout its orbit. This silence gave rise to the legend that the astronauts turned off the radio. In fact, that same day, Carr and Pogue completed a grueling seven-hour spacewalk. Half-jokingly, Houston suggested that they take the day off, which they did, to which the commander replied that they would “turn on the answering machine.”

Unanswered call

Carr recalled it this way: “One of the things we did was neglect our radios and forget to set them up for one of our passes, so when we got the signal, the people on the ground called us and we didn’t answer. them.” Media reported that the crew refused to talk to the base.

The crew and mission control eventually held a conference call to voice their objections and reached a consensus on how to proceed, which included prioritizing key research and adding routine tasks to a “shopping list” to be completed at all times of the day.

“It lightened the agenda and took all the pressure off us. We were no longer racing against time to get things done. That really solved the problem,” Carr explained. “The flexible schedule allowed us to carry out the most important experiments, and everything else was done when we could, rather than on a very rigid schedule. “It worked wonderfully,” the astronaut noted some time later.

The astronauts repeatedly discussed with controllers the need to rethink their work program. Sometimes in an atmosphere of tension. They finally got their demands, and many months later one of the flight directors admitted that indeed the three crew members were under too much pressure. From this experience, experts drew many conclusions, such as the importance of psychology in these missions and the need to always have someone experienced on the ship.

In August 1976, Henry Cooper, a respected expert on the space program, published an article in the magazine. New Yorker in which he suggested that the stressed astronauts had gone on some sort of strike for the day. Later in his book House in space, Cooper himself used the word “riot”. The reality turned out to be much less compromised. They were just taking advantage of the day off. But the legend was too colorful to be completely destroyed, and the episode of the three rebels persisted for years.

NASA’s history department recently published a story. official episode, citing recorded conversations and the enormous amount of work performed by the Skylab 4 crew. At 87, Ed Gibson is the only survivor of the crew. He continues to lament that the story of the mutiny remains what the public remembers most about their 84 days in space: in the end, the crew completed all the planned experiments and several additional ones.

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