Thursday, February 8, 2024



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.

Early on mission day 85, the crew of Skylab 4 closed the hatch on the Multiple Docking Adaptor for the final time and took their seats in the Apollo Command Module. It was February 8, 1974. Other than a capture latch snagging, the undocking went off without a hitch. The only real glitch was that the CM Reaction Control System’s (RCS) number two ring was showing a helium leak when it was pressurized. Mission Control, suspecting an impending fuel leak in the ring, decided not to use ring two and to simply reenter on ring number one. If the crew were to have a problem with ring one, Mission Control directed them to set the CM into a rolling reentry and proceed. CBS radio’s spaceflight announcer Reid Collins, while describing the pending reentry, stated that the crew of Skylab 4 would be coming in “on one ring and a prayer.”

Since I had taken the day off from school to watch this historic event on TV I had a whole 60 minute cassette tape ready to fill. I knew full well that it would be a year and a half before the next manned American spaceflight, and so I was going to catch every word of the TV coverage. It struck me that when the subject came up on the morning news shows, there was no mention of when the networks would start their coverage. At the expected time I was set up and ready to go, but there was no coverage.

Those of us on the outside who were growing up with spaceflight were not the only ones who were screwed by the TV networks; the Skylab 4 astronaut’s families got the shaft as well. Since there was no prior notice that the three TV networks were not going to cover the splashdown, the families of the crew had invited guests into their homes to watch the event on TV and celebrate. Instead of a joyful family moment that would be long remembered, they were treated to a great disappointment far beyond what those of us in the space-buff ranks had experienced. Later that evening Walter Cronkite, while talking about the Skylab 4 crew’s return, made it a point to highlight this historic slight on his CBS evening news broadcast.

“Their landing today,” Cronkite announced, “the first not covered live on television since it had the capability to do so.”

In the book, “Around the World in 84 Days,” Jerry Carr recalls that his son, Jeff, was so upset by the fact that all of the TV networks had elected to ignore the splashdown that he wrote letters to the presidents of NBC, CBS and ABC asking why they had done so. Surprisingly, he received replies from all three, and essentially they all said the same thing. The splashdown, although a historic event, was, in their opinion, not newsworthy. The mission was greatly overshadowed by an independent trucker’s strike, legal fights over Nixon’s White House tapes and gasoline shortages across the nation.

From the very beginning, the Skylab program had been given the brush-off by the snobs running the three TV networks. Thus, the snub of this historic moment should have been no surprise as it took a back seat to soap operas and game shows.



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