Science: Skylab: The Troubled Mission

The sunlight glinted off the object looming larger in the command module window, and Astronaut Charles ("Pete") Conrad Jr.'s exuberant voice came crackling across space: "Tallyho! Skylab!" As he maneuvered the Apollo spaceship closer to the windmill-shaped orbiting laboratory, Conrad gave crewmates Joseph Kerwin and Paul Weitz—and millions watching their TV screens on earth—a closeup look at the damaged Skylab.

Barely more than a minute after the orbiting laboratory was launched two weeks ago, ground controllers knew that Skylab was in trouble. Telemetered signals indicated that the meteoroid-and-heat-shield protecting the workshop and...

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