back to article Apollo at 50? How about 40 years since Skylab smacked into Australia

40 years ago today, nearly 10 years after Neil Armstrong plonked a boot on the Moon, another bit of Apollo leftovers came screaming back to Earth: the Skylab space station. Launched in May 1973 aboard the last Saturn V to fly, Skylab consisted of the Saturn S-IVB 212 stage outfitted to be home to visiting crews. Three crews …

  1. moooooooo

    40 years has gone quick!

    good article. I remember it was in the Oz news for ages with speculation rife on where it would crash.

  2. Phil Kingston

    As a Perth resident, I can say we're particularly non-plussed about the whole thing. If NASA want to crash shit into the ground, they've got enough room in their own backyard.

  3. revenant

    Exciting time

    I remember that summer, going out 'Skylab Spotting'.

    I was disappointed that Oz got the pleasure, though it would surely have made a bit of a mess of the UK if my wishes had been fulfilled.

    1. OssianScotland

      Re: Exciting time

      But depending on where it hit, it might have caused valuable civic improvements

      1. Simon Harris

        Re: Exciting time

        Although "Come friendly space station and fall on Slough" doesn't scan quite as well as Betjeman's original version.

        1. $till$kint

          Re: Exciting time

          It's even harder to fit "Uxbridge" into that poem. But worth the effort I feel

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            I did my best...

            NASA came on telly to say,

            There'll be trouble in space today.

            A flux transfer event,

            And our satellite's bent,

            We knew it would crash,

            We hoped it would splash,

            But the result of this flux bridge

            Is it landing on Uxbridge.

          2. 's water music

            Re: Exciting time

            It's even harder to fit "Uxbridge" into that poem. But worth the effort I feel

            this sounds like the makings of a Clue round.

            One poem to the theme of another?

      2. GruntyMcPugh

        Re: Exciting time

        @OssianScotlan 'Civic Improvements',.....

        .... you mean Coventry, don't you.

        1. OssianScotland

          Re: Exciting time

          After the best efforts of the Luftwaffe?

          (should probably go AC on that, but will take the risk....)

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Exciting time

            Coventry was quite nice before the Luftwaffe knackered it. The problem is that the centre largely got rebuilt in the 1960s - which meant horrific concrete brutalist awfulness. The sort of buildings that only an architect can love. Obviously a lot of stuff got rebuilt on the cheap, so that was one reason so many British town centres got ruined, but it didn't help that the architectural profession seems to have suffered a 40 lapse in good taste.

  4. AIBailey

    Astro-pee lager

    Nowadays an artisan micro-brewery astropiss beer would probably be celebrated in certain hipster circles.

    Don't fancy one of these right now --->

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Astro-pee lager

      I'll have a pint of the Buzz's Jockstrap please...

      Even after all this time, it packs a hell of a punch.

  5. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    Free Willy

    So just think, but for NASA having problems with the shuttle, Matt Smith (no not Dr Who, the other one) would have had to come up with a whole new level for Manic Miner...

    Christ I feel old now, MM itself is 36 years old! Skylab Landing Bay and all...

  6. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Litter bugs

    The Shire of Esperance fined NASA AU$400 for littering <LOL>, but are now proud to celebrate the event 40 years later, on their website.

    1. defiler

      Re: Litter bugs

      I was going to mention that. Did it ever get that fine paid?

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: Litter bugs

        With inflation alone its ~2174 AUS dollars now. They should call in the interest too.

      2. dotdavid

        Re: Litter bugs

        > Did it ever get that fine paid?

        Apparently NASA declined to pay it and after three months it was written off.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Litter bugs

          Didn't NASA eventually pay the fine about 5 years ago? I'm sure I read a story about it a while back.

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

            Re: Litter bugs

            Apparently it was paid on their behalf by a Californian radio DJ, who earned a key to the city of Esperance for his troubles...


  7. iron Silver badge

    Searching for Skylab

    An excellent documentary about Skylab was made recently and is available to buy or stream on Vimeo:

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Searching for Skylab

      There's plans for a Lego version to go with the Lego Saturn V too.

      1. defiler

        Re: Searching for Skylab

        That's surprisingly cool, and I'd even have space for it alongside my Saturn V on my shelves. Shame it didn't make it into production, but it might be nice to order up a load of parts. (For "nice", read "expensive" - it is Lego after all...)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: (For "nice", read "expensive" - it is Lego after all...)

          Indeed. I wanted to get the parts needed to build my son a fleet of 10 micro-sized Imperial Star Destroyers. Because the official Lego "buy parts" site had (disappointingly) few of the parts required, I had to source them piecemeal from a range of ebay used-lego merchants. Cost me about £40 all up, even with making a few compromises on colour.

          1. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: (For "nice", read "expensive" - it is Lego after all...)

            Sites like Bricklink make it a easier to buy specific parts. You can even upload a model and import the parts list.

  8. mmonroe

    Miss Universe

    The 1979 Miss Universe contest was held in Perth, and a bit of Skylab was shown on the TV broadcast. It did win though - wiki tells me the winner was Maritza Sayalero of Venezuela.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Miss Universe

      Miss Universe is rigged, the winner is always someone from the local cluster

  9. adam 40


    I went to Esperance on holiday about 16 years ago - had I known I would have gone to the museum.

    You can't beat a bit of space junk in a museum to liven up a trip to Esperance!

    1. Starace

      Re: Bummer!

      It's worth a look - they have a lot of bits of thoroughly cooked NASA hardware on display. Some of the bits are substantial.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Skylab was a program worth doing...

    But I rather wish they had dumped it in the ocean somewhere, rather than pelting Oz with debris. However, nobody got hurt and I suppose part of the legacy of Skylab is that space agencies do a much better job of de-orbiting old spacecraft now.

  11. Miss Config

    Hitting The Target ( or Not )

    What I remember is some people said that since governments NEVER hit their targets, any piece of ground in any danger of actually being hit by Skylab should have a sign in as large letters as possible :


  12. N000dles
    Black Helicopters

    Why Australia?

    I've always wondered why they chose to dump it on Australia. I've never heard it officially confirmed but I'd imagine that Skylab had quite a bit of technology that the Americans would not have wanted being distributed over a "non-friendly" nation. I wouldn't mind betting they were aiming to de-orbit Skylab so it ended up crashing into the nearby Woomera Rocket Range and just ended up falling short instead. This is where lots of secret stuff that the Americans and British wanted to play with ended up being tested. Even today you're not allowed to deviate from the main highway and go through this area. I was just a kid in those days and we were worried they would drop it on a larger east coast city.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Why Australia?

      You don't really have much longitude control on something that big and solid

      I suspect they weren't aiming at Australia so much as the fairly empty southern hemisphere

    2. MJB7

      Re: Why Australia?

      These days most large satellites are dropped into the spacecraft cemetery, they were probably trying for there or thereabouts - but when it didn't break up, it would have landed in a rather different place than the target.

      Icon: well it made a bang...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Why Australia?

        Responsible users plan for satellite end of life with fuel reserves and backup comms.

        NASA was a little more 'adventurous' back in the day. They didn't really have much control of the massive Skylab's reentry.

        The only reason they even announced where it was likely to land was that they dropped the saturn v booster that launched it onto the north hemisphere without much thought and there was a certain amount of bad press at the idea of the USA dropping kilotons of energy at random on people

  13. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

    Skylab was faked!

    I've done the science on the Skylab launch, and it's obviously impossible to put a structure of that size in orbit! You'll just have to trust my calculations, which I'm not going to post here, or my sources. If Skylab is possible, why did we abandon it? What don't they want us to know? Don't believe the official story!

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Skylab was faked!

      Staley Kubrick has admitted that he was paid to fake the Moon landing videos. However, being a perfectionist he insisted on doing it on location ...

      1. JLV

        Re: Skylab was faked!

        +1 but kinda doubt that.

        Full Metal Jacket was filmed in England because he absolutely hated to fly.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Skylab was faked!

          Not surprised after having to travel to the Moon in 1969

  14. Jonathan G

    Prize winner

    I was a kid at the time, but I remember a picture in the local paper (in the U.S.) of a smiling Australian man who won a contest to be the first to bring a piece of Sky Lab to a newspaper in the U.S.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I seem to remember a picture of one hopeful resident parking a caravan out with a mattress on top to catch stray pieces.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Successfully sent back to earth without injuring a soul"

    Sounds like they never had proper control of it, and the fact that it didn't injure a soul was more due to the EXTREMELY long odds of it falling on a populated area.

    1. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: "Successfully sent back to earth without injuring a soul"

      Indeed. Although arguably, people conflate luck with skill all the time, particularly in business, so doesn't surprise me.

  17. Hazmoid

    Proud West Australian here

    Having been to Esperance (with my newly minted wife 25+ years ago) and wandered through the museum, I must admit that they did a good job of making the best of a bit of illegal dumping. Makes a change from the local bogans dumping their used mattress and broken washing machine out on some bush track.

    Must be a quiet news week as there have been a few reports about it. Apparently people are still finding bits of it.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another West Aussie

    Ahh Skylab, came down quicker than a Kalgoorlie tarts knickers!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "it is also worth noting that that it is also the 40th anniversary of its engineers regaining control of a 77,000 kg (169,756lb) derelict space station and successfully sending it back to Earth..."

    Ahh, this is obviously a new use of the word "control" that I was not previously familiar with.

  20. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Suprised I'm the only one old enough to remember

    And I AM going on memory here. I was 12, but a decent science/space buff, so I was paying quite a bit of attention.

    1) Saying that NASA had "control" of the descent is just silly. If they had control, it would have landed in the Pacific. In one big piece or twenty.

    2) As the orbit deteriorated, we got increasingly restrictive zones where it might land. The early reports were something like, "between 40 degrees North and 40 degrees South). Talking heads mentioned that this included pretty much every national capital. The did not (publicly) narrow it to the Pacific until (much) less than a week before terminal fall.

    3) This was HORRIBLE publicity for NASA. The each delay in the shuttle program led to another spasm of worry about Skylab. Each pulling in of the Skylab estimate led to a spasm of worry about the shuttle. The talking heads indicated that it did not help our (already weak) situation diplomatically, either.

    Once it was over, pop culture had a ball with it. I remember a prime-time add for Playboy, of all things, almost two years later, where the guy throws the mag in the air, and exclaims, "The last piece of Skylab!" to get people to leave him alone with the mag.

  21. Cyrus Lesser

    The fact that no-one was injured was purely fortuitous. The station was totally out of control for hours prior to crashing and could have landed in the middle of Sydney, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, or anywhere in between! It was all a matter of cross your fingers and hope that it went into a sparsely populated area or the open ocean. Statitistically that was more probable than hitting a populated area, so only to that extent was the final trajectory "selected" as the least worst option.

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