AMERICAN NOTES: Taking It for Granted

It cost $2.6 billion and tapped the best of American technology; yet Skylab sometimes behaved like a castoff from a used-car lot. First it lost vital shielding and an electricity-generating solar wing. Then its steering rockets per formed so badly that NASA thought of sending up rescuers to evacuate its three-man crew. Finally, two of its stabilizing gyros faltered, threatening to send the 100-ton space station yawing and pitching like an angry whale.

Even these weighty problems, how ever, failed to excite a blase public. When the last of three Skylab crews finally...

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