America’s first space station was huge. It was so big that the actual trainer used by astronauts to prepare for life aboard Skylab couldn’t be brought into Space Center Houston. Space Center Houston had to be built around the trainer.
The actual Skylab training module lives in Starship Gallery. Created out of the final stage of a Saturn V rocket, this habitable spacecraft was designed to develop methods of living and working in space for long periods.
It also was equipped with solar telescopes and served as a laboratory to study how the human body adapts to long duration exposure to a microgravity environment. Three different crews spent a total of 171 days on board, conducting a wide array of research.
Skylab consisted of a command and service module, a multiple docking adapter, an airlock module, Apollo Telescope Mount and an orbital workshop.
This workshop is what guests can walk through in Starship Gallery, seeing the aft compartment used for everyday human activities, the forward compartment serving as the major experiment area including a ring of stowage lockers.
In a very real way, Skylab bridged the gap between the Apollo era and the International Space Station (ISS). Experiments like the Year in Space conducted on the ISS are a testament to Skylab’s mission, which lives on through the ISS and our ever-growing understanding of life in microgravity.
Not many traces of Skylab still exist. Skylab broke apart as planned as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere on July 11, 1979.
Small fragments of the giant object did survive. This piece was cut from one of Skylab’s structural beams that was recovered after it washed ashore in Esperance, Australia. It’s likely from the airlock or perhaps the Apollo Telescope Mount area.
Temperatures during re-entry can reach 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 Celsius) so it’s remarkable that this bit of Skylab survived to hit the ocean and be recovered to be displayed here.
See the Skylab 1-G Trainer and the rare Skylab fragment in Starship Gallery.