Skylab 4

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Skylab 4
Skylab and Earth Limb - GPN-2000-001055.jpg
The final view of Skylab, from the departing mission 4 crew, with Earth in the background
Operator NASA
COSPAR ID 1973-090A
SATCAT № 6936
Mission duration 84 days, 1 hour, 15 minutes, 30 seconds
Distance travelled 55,500,000 kilometers (34,500,000 mi)
Orbits completed 1214
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft Apollo CSM-118
Manufacturer North American Rockwell
Launch mass 20,847 kilograms (45,960 lb)
Crew size 3
Members Gerald P. Carr
Edward G. Gibson
William R. Pogue
Start of mission
Launch date November 16, 1973, 14:01:23 (1973-11-16UTC14:01:23Z) UTC
Rocket Saturn IB SA-208
Launch site Kennedy LC-39B
End of mission
Recovered by USS New Orleans
Landing date February 8, 1974, 15:16:53 (1974-02-08UTC15:16:54Z) UTC
Landing site Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Low Earth
Perigee 422 kilometers (262 mi)
Apogee 437 kilometers (272 mi)
Inclination 50.0 degrees
Period 93.11 minutes
Epoch January 21, 1974[1]
Docking with Skylab
Docking port Forward
Docking date November 16, 1973, 21:55:00 UTC
Undocking date February 8, 1974, 02:33:12 UTC
Time docked 83 days, 4 hours, 38 minutes, 12 seconds
Due to a NASA management error, manned Skylab mission patches were designed in conflict with the official mission numbering scheme.

Skylab4 crew.jpg
Left to right: Carr, Gibson and Pogue

Skylab program
Manned flights
← Skylab 3

Skylab 4 (also SL-4 and SLM-3[2]) was the third manned Skylab mission and placed the third and final crew aboard the first American space station.

The mission started on November 16, 1973 with the launch of three astronauts on a Saturn IB rocket from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida and lasted 84 days, one hour and 16 minutes. A total of 6,051 astronaut-utilization hours were tallied by Skylab 4 astronauts performing scientific experiments in the areas of medical activities, solar observations, Earth resources, observation of the Comet Kohoutek and other experiments.

The manned Skylab missions were officially designated Skylab 2, 3, and 4. Mis-communication about the numbering resulted in the mission emblems reading Skylab I, Skylab II, and Skylab 3 respectively.[2][3]


Position Astronaut
Commander Gerald P. Carr
Only spaceflight
Science Pilot Edward G. Gibson
Only spaceflight
Pilot William R. Pogue
Only spaceflight

Skylab 4 was the fourth out of five all-rookie crews launched by NASA (the others being Gemini 4, Gemini 7, Gemini 8 and STS-2).

Backup crew

Position Astronaut
Commander Vance D. Brand
Science Pilot William Lenoir
Pilot Don L. Lind

Support crew

Mission parameters

  • Mass: 20,847 kg (45,960 lb)
  • Maximum Altitude: 440 km (270 mi)
  • Distance: 34.5 million miles (55,500,000 km)
  • Launch Vehicle: Saturn IB
  • Perigee: 422 km (262 mi)
  • Apogee: 437 km (272 mi)
  • Inclination: 50.04°
  • Period: 93.11 min


  • Docked: November 16, 1973 – 21:55:00 UTC
  • Undocked: February 8, 1974 – 02:33:12 UTC
  • Time Docked: 83 days, 4 hours, 38 minutes, 12 seconds

Space walks

  • Gibson and Pogue – EVA 1
  • EVA 1 Start: November 22, 1973, 17:42 UTC
  • EVA 1 End: November 23, 00:15 UTC
  • Duration: 6 hours, 33 minutes
  • Carr and Pogue – EVA 2
  • EVA 2 Start: December 25, 1973, 16:00 UTC
  • EVA 2 End: December 25, 23:01 UTC
  • Duration: 1 hour, 01 minute
  • Carr and Gibson – EVA 3
  • EVA 3 Start: December 29, 1973, 17:00 UTC
  • EVA 3 End: December 29, 20:29 UTC
  • Duration: 3 hours, 29 minutes
  • Carr and Gibson – EVA 4
  • EVA 4 Start: February 3, 1974, 15:19 UTC
  • EVA 4 End: February 3, 20:38 UTC
  • Duration: 5 hours, 19 minutes

Mission highlights

One of the dummies left behind by the Skylab 3 crew to be found by the Skylab 4 crew.
Bill Pogue (left) and Gerald Carr pass trash through an airlock to Skylab's waste disposal tank
Solar prominence photographed December 19, 1973 by the Apollo Telescope Mount

Skylab 4 was the last Skylab mission.

The crew arrived aboard Skylab to find that they had company – three figures dressed in flight suits. Upon closer inspection, they found their companions were three dummies, complete with Skylab 4 mission emblems and name tags which had been left there by Al Bean, Jack Lousma, and Owen Garriott at the end of Skylab 3.[4]

The all-rookie astronaut crew had problems adjusting to the same workload level as their predecessors when activating the workshop. Things got off to a bad start after the crew attempted to hide Pogue's early space sickness from flight surgeons, a fact discovered by mission controllers after downloading onboard voice recordings. The crew's initial task of unloading and stowing the thousands of items needed for their lengthy mission also proved to be overwhelming. The schedule for the activation sequence dictated lengthy work periods with a large variety of tasks to be performed, and the crew soon found themselves tired and behind schedule.

As the activation of Skylab progressed, the astronauts complained of being pushed too hard. Ground crews disagreed; they felt that the astronauts were not working long enough or hard enough. During the course of the mission, this culminated in a radio conference to air frustrations. Following this, the workload schedule was modified, and by the end of their mission the crew had completed even more work than had been planned before launch. The experiences of the crew and ground controllers provided important lessons in planning subsequent manned spaceflight work schedules.

On Thanksgiving Day, Gibson and Pogue accomplished a 612 hour spacewalk. The first part of their spacewalk was spent replacing film in the solar observatory. The remainder of the time was used to repair a malfunctioning antenna.

The crew reported that the food was good, but slightly bland. The crew would have preferred to use more condiments to enhance the taste of the food. The amount of salt they could use was restricted for medical purposes. The quantity and type of food consumed was rigidly controlled because of their strict diet.

Seven days into their mission, a problem developed in the Skylab gyroscope attitude control system, which threatened to bring an early end to the mission. Skylab depended upon three large gyroscopes, sized so that any two of them could provide sufficient control and maneuver Skylab as desired. The third acted as a backup in the event of failure of one of the others. The gyroscope failure was attributed to insufficient lubrication. Later in the mission, a second gyroscope showed similar problems, but special temperature control and load reduction procedures kept the second one operating, and no further problems occurred.

False color image of Comet Kohoutek photographed with the far-ultraviolet electrographic camera during a Skylab spacewalk on December 25, 1973.

The crew spent many hours studying the Earth. Carr and Pogue alternately manned controls, operating the sensing devices which measured and photographed selected features on the Earth's surface. The crew also made solar observations, recording about 75,000 new telescopic images of the Sun. Images were taken in the X-ray, ultraviolet, and visible portions of the spectrum.

As the end of their mission drew closer, Gibson continued his watch of the solar surface. On January 21, 1974, an active region on the Sun's surface formed a bright spot which intensified and grew. Gibson quickly began filming the sequence as the bright spot erupted. This film was the first recording from space of the birth of a solar flare.

On December 13, the crew sighted Comet Kohoutek and trained the solar observatory and hand-held cameras on it. They gathered spectra on it using the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph.[5] They continued to photograph it as it approached the Sun. On December 30, as it swept out from behind the Sun, Carr and Gibson spotted it as they were performing a spacewalk.

The crew also photographed the Earth from orbit. Despite instructions not to do so, the crew (perhaps inadvertently) photographed Area 51, causing a minor dispute between various government agencies as to whether the photographs showing this secret facility should be released. In the end, the picture was published along with all others in NASA's Skylab image archive, but remained unnoticed for years.[6]

The Skylab 4 astronauts completed 1,214 Earth orbits and four EVAs totaling 22 hours, 13 minutes. They traveled 34.5 million miles (55,500,000 km) in 84 days, 1 hour and 16 minutes in space.

The three astronauts had joined NASA in the mid-1960s, during the Apollo program, with Pogue and Carr becoming part of the likely crew for the cancelled Apollo 19. Ultimately none of the crew of Skylab 4 flew in space again, as none of the three had been selected for Apollo-Soyuz and all of them retired from NASA before the first Space Shuttle launch. Gibson, who had trained as a scientist-astronaut, resigned from NASA in December 1974 to do research on Skylab solar physics data, as a senior staff scientist with the Aerospace Corp. of Los Angeles, California.


Spacecraft location

Skylab 4 Command Module at the Smithsonian

The Skylab 4 command module is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Mission insignia

The triangular emblem features a large number 3 and a rainbow circling three areas of study the astronauts pursued. At the time of the flight, the astronauts issued the following description:

"The symbols in the patch refer to the three major areas of investigation in the mission. The tree represents man's natural environment and refers to the objective of advancing the study of earth resources. The hydrogen atom, as the basic building block of the universe, represents man's exploration of the physical world, his application of knowledge, and his development of technology. Since the sun is composed primarily of hydrogen, the hydrogen symbol also refers to the Solar Physics mission objectives. The human silhouette represents mankind and the human capacity to direct technology with a wisdom tempered by his regard for his natural environment. It also relates to the Skylab medical studies of man himself. The rainbow, adopted from the Biblical story of the Flood, symbolizes the promise that is offered to man. It embraces man and extends to the tree and hydrogen atom, emphasizing man's pivotal role in the conciliation of technology with nature by a humanistic application of our scientific knowledge." Some versions of the patch included a comet in the top curve because of studies made of the comet Kohoutek.

See also


  1. McDowell, Jonathan. "SATCAT". Jonathan's Space Pages. Retrieved March 23, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Skylab Numbering Fiasco". Living in Space. William Pogue Official WebSite. 2007. Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Pogue, William. "Naming Spacecraft: Confusion Reigns". collectSPACE. Retrieved April 24, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Photo-sl3-113-1587". Retrieved 2015-05-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "SP-404 Skylab's Astronomy and Space Sciences". Archived from the original on November 13, 2004. Retrieved May 14, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. The Space Review: Secret Apollo published November 26, 2007
  7. William Pogue's Seiko 6139 Watch Flown on Board the Skylab 4 Mission, from his Personal Collection... The First Automatic Chronograph to be Worn in Space.
  8. The “Colonel Pogue” Seiko 6139,

Further reading

  • Gilles Clement, Fundamentals of Space Medicine, Microcosm Press, 2003. pp. 212.
  • Lattimer, Dick (1985). All We Did was Fly to the Moon. Whispering Eagle Press. ISBN 0-9611228-0-3.

External links