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.

Skylab 4 was the last mission to take place aboard the Skylab before it was slated to reenter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up, so with budget in mind, NASA placed an emphasis on wringing every last bit of scientific data that they could out of the space station during its last 84 days of operation. As a result, Skylab 4’s rookie astronaut crew of Commander Gerald P. Carr, Science Pilot Edward G. Gibson, and pilot William R. Pogue arrived at the space station aware that they had a daunting schedule ahead of them.

How daunting? The entire 84 day rotation was scheduled to the minute for each of the three crew members: 16 hours of itemized tasks micromanaged by Mission Control each day, followed by exactly 8 hours of recuperation before starting the process over again. The schedule was put together well in advance, and allowed no time for deviation – arguably a foolish decision considering the three men aboard the station had never been in space before.

Pictured in their flight suits with a globe and a model of the Skylab space station are, left to right, Astronaut Gerald P. Carr, commander; Scientist-Astronaut Edward G. Gibson, science pilot; and Astronaut William R. Pogue, pilot. (NASA)

While the previous Skylab crews had all been experienced astronauts, Skylab 4’s team had to quickly learn how to function in a microgravity environment, but that wasn’t the only snag they hit right away. The human inner ear works much like the accelerometer in a smartphone. It helps the human body understand how it’s oriented and maintain balance. In a zero or microgravity environment, that function becomes compromised, and many astronauts experience serious motion sickness and nausea for a day or so upon arriving in orbit.

Pogue suffered from this nausea the worst, but the crew agreed that they had anticipated such an issue and that he would manage — opting not to inform Mission Control. Unbeknownst to them, Mission Control was secretly monitoring their conversation, immediately offering up admonishment for keeping secrets from the command and setting the precedent for strained relations between the crew and Mission Control that would go on for weeks to come.