The following is an excerpt from my book "Growing up with Spaceflight- Skylab/ASTP" the text is protected by Copyright 2015 Wes Oleszewski and no portion of this may be republished in any manner.
Considering that my family had now moved to the country and I was now in a good school, it was pretty hard for me to come up with a reason for staying home from school to watch and record the Skylab 4 launch. Previously my Junior High school had been such den of chaos that my parents were certain that I was learning more sitting home watching spaceflight on TV than I would “…in that damned school…” as my mom often stated. Now, however, being in a good school, I was sure that such was no longer the attitude of my folks. Of course, I considered playing sick, but being a lifelong asthmatic and generally sickly kid, my folks would easily see the difference. And an asthma attack that just happened to coincide with a Skylab 4 launch would be just too obvious for my parents to buy. I could plead and make big eyes, but at age 16 that would just look pathetic. Then, just as I was watching the evening news and contemplating a short fall down the basement stairs as a reason to stay home from school tomorrow, my Mom heard Cronkite talking about the next day’s launch.
“Is that goin’ up tomorrow morning?” she casually said.
“Yep,” I half sighed in reply.
“I suppose,” she asked rhetorically, “yer’ gonna stay home and record it.”
“Yep,” I answered feigning confidence.
“Okay,” she softly sighed.
Dang! That was easy.
November 16th, 1973 Skylab 4 was set to launch at 09:01 and coverage of the Skylab 4 launch began with assorted spots on the TV network’s morning news shows. Continuous coverage of the launch started on CBS at 8:45 that morning and NBC started five minutes later. Living in a new location, I found that NBC’s WNEM Channel 5 had the best sound so I decided to record from there, but changed over to CBS later just before launch. Deploying my implements for capturing history, I took my normal space-buff position to watch the historic launch that most of America would ignore in spite of network attempts of the news media to trump up an air of impending danger surrounding the replacement of the launch vehicle’s fins due to the discovery of some minor cracks.
At the Kennedy Space Center the weather was perfect for a change as opposed to the string of previous Skylab launches. Skylab’s 1 and 2 had jumped from the pad and into the clouds in a matter of seconds, and likewise Skylab 3 had done nearly the same sort of departure. Now, however, clear skies and unlimited visibility were the backdrop for Skylab 4. For the first time since Apollo 7 the cameras would be able to follow the Saturn IB all the way up. Considering that I had been held hostage in my fifth grade classroom learning about the state bird of Iowa, or some such pointless thing, during the Apollo 7 launch, this would be my first chance to watch an entire Saturn IB boost live on TV.
I was as giddy by the clear weather as I was that it was a launch day. Also giddy that morning were the three rookies in the Command Module. Gerry Carr later said that once they were “closed out” with the hatch sealed and everything was quiet, he sat up a bit from his couch and looked across his two crewmates. They all looked back and they all “giggled like a bunch of schoolgirls,” because they had been waiting so long for that moment.
Much of the media focus on launch day involved the fin replacement efforts and the perception that they may fall off at Max-Q. The countdown was normal and I started my trusty tape recorder. At launch it seemed as if the flame was nearly as large as a Saturn V, but the Saturn IB was tiny in comparison. It is interesting to note that the thrust of all eight of the IB’s H-1 engines combined was roughly equal to just one of the Saturn V’s F-1 engines.
On prior Skylab IB launches the launch vehicle was not discernible in the haze, so this time it was fun to watch. Cronkite kept exclaiming that this was the best we had ever seen one of these (meaning a Saturn IB), and since I had not seen Apollo 7, I had to agree.
Cronkite alerted viewers prior to Max-Q, which came at 69.5 seconds after liftoff. The drama of the fins falling off had to be hyped up I guess. Of course, nothing at all happened, no fins were lost. Then staging took place at 141.29 seconds into the flight and we got a good view of the retro and ullage motors firing. Then, 29 seconds later, we saw the escape tower and boost protective cover jettison and tumble away. Thereafter, Skylab 4 simply became a dot on my TV screen. The ride on the S-IVB was described later by Gibson as being “like an elevator.”
“Smooth as glass, Houston,” Carr reported.
The S-IVB boosted the CSM to just over 86 miles in altitude, where it pitched slightly downward and flattened its trajectory to gain velocity. At 577.18 seconds into the boost the single J-2 engine of the S-IVB shutdown and Skylab 4’s rookie crewmembers were no longer space rookies.
The following Monday I showed up as usual for my first hour Earth Sciences class at Freeland High School. My teacher, Mrs. Warner, asked where I had been on Friday. Expecting the normal rolled eyes and shaking head from her as I had seen in my previous school, I simply said that I had stayed home to watch the Skylab 4 launch. Instead of disdain, she put down her role-book and her eyes got wide,
“Oh man,” she sighed, “I wish I could’ve done that.”
What a difference moving to the country makes.
For your copy of Skylab/ASTP click HERE