Monday, July 30, 2018


For some reason there seems to be far more Skylab fans now than then were during the actual missions. Thanks largely to the fact that the spaceflight sites and writers on today's social media have done far more to cover the program than the professional news media did during 1973 and 1974. As a result there are a lot of new space buffs now discovering the program and questions pop up from time to time in regard to some of the more obscure details of Sklyab... such as "the hatch."

Skylab astronauts did several EVAs during the three missions that manned the vehicle- exiting the workshop by way of the airlock module which was equipped with a hatch... a Gemini hatch.

In order to make Skylab more palatable to politicians and a public who what been fed the notion that NASA was literally sending billions on dollars into outer space and allowing those dollar bills to simply float off into the void while countless poor people were dropping dead in America's streets from starvation when they all could have been fed by those same dollars, the space agency needed to create an image of a project that was simply using leftover hardware. 

In that light it was decided rather than designing, constructing and flight-qualifying a new EVA hatch to serve as the workshop's airlock, Skylab would use a hatch door leftover from the Gemini program. It was already flight-qualified. What a great way to save money!

There was just one problem... the airlock module was constructed as a cylinder and the Gemini hatch had been built as a part of a conical structure- the two shapes were about as compatible as a square peg in a round hole.

Now extra design work and metal-bending had to be done on the airlock in order to accommodate the surplus Gemini hatch. Of course, in flight the entire assembly worked like a charm, yet very little was ever said in the media, or by NASA public affairs office about how great it was to use a Gemini hatch on the orbital workshop.

In the summer of 2016 at Spacefest in Tucson, Arizona, I had the opportunity to chat casually with Skylab III commander Al Bean. We started off talking about another astronaut's son with whom I had attended college and then we talked briefly about Skylab. I made a joke that after walking on the moon they gave him a space station with a Gemini hatch to command. He laughed a bit and quipped that he thought they'd probably spent more money on adapting that hatch than it would have cost to just design and build a unique one for the airlock.

For more cool stories about Skylab, check out my book...

Or... the e-books

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