The International Space Station has been in orbit around our planet since 1998, providing the human race with a (semi) permanent habitable space at the front door of the great beyond. That timeline offers an interesting bit of perspective — as you come to realize that America’s latest generation of enlisted warfighters, joining the service within the past two years, belong to the first generation of human beings in history to live their entire lives with a human presence in orbit.
Members of previous generations, however, likely remember a time before the International Space Station — and if they were paying attention to the headlines in the early 1970s, they might also remember its predecessor: Skylab. In many ways, Skylab served as a test bed for systems that would come to be deployed on the International Space Station, and in a number of others, it was completely unique when compared to the array of other space stations that have been launched since.
Small in comparison to the ISS as a whole, Skylab was huge for what it was. Unlike space stations like Mir or the ISS, Skylab was all one section that was launched into space on a single rocket. That rocket happened to be the most powerful platform mankind has ever produced, the Saturn V, which also ferried astronauts to and from the moon on the Apollo missions — and it’s a good thing too, because all told, the Skylab itself accounted for a 170,000 pound payload.
While the early space station offered NASA a chance to see how many of their systems held up to prolonged space flight, perhaps the most important development to come out of the six-year Skylab mission was the way it forced America’s space agency to approach working with astronauts out in the cold expanses of space. All it took to do that… was a mutiny. Well, maybe more like a space-strike.