Former astronaut Ed Gibson, the final person to leave NASA’s Skylab space station, says he’d go back to space ‘in a heartbeat’ if given the chance.
Gibson, a solar physicist, was in the first group of scientist-astronauts selected to go into space by NASA, making his only spaceflight as part of the final Skylab crew.
The 84-year-old, who closed the door on the first US space station, told MailOnline: ‘If someone wants to test the effect of zero gravity on tired old bones I’m available.’
He appears in a new documentary called ‘Searching for Skylab’ by director Dwight Steven-Boniecki about the first and only, wholly NASA operated space station.
Ed Gibson as he prepares for his first and only flight to SkyLab with Al Shepard, the first American in space
Shower presentation by Alan Bean and Jack Lousma were part of the second crew to go to SkyLab, launching in July 1973 and are seen here demonstrating the shower system
Skylab crew, including Ed Gibson, had to perform routine maintenance by stepping outside the space station, Gibson said it wasn’t as disorientating as you’d expect
ED GIBSON: THE FINAL ASTRONAUT ON NASA’S SKYLAB
Edward Gibson was the final person onboard the US Skylab space station when the mission finished in 1974.
Gibson has a PhD from the California Institute of Technology and was part of the first group of ‘science-astronauts’.
He specialised in solar physics and observed flares from the sun while onboard the orbiting laboratory.
He is the last surviving member of ‘Skylab 4’ the final mission of three to go to the station, launching in 1973.
Along with commander Gerald Carr and pilot William Pogue, he spent 84 days in space on the station.
Before going into space, Gibson served as CAPCOM for the Apollo 12 lunar landing – the first from the ‘scientist-astronaut’ group to get a crew assignment of any kind.
He was also involved in the design of much of the Skylab space station.
Occupied by three separate teams for 24 weeks between 1973 and 1974, Skylab is the forebear of the International Space Station (ISS) and is one of mankind’s greatest engineering feats.
Its story has largely been forgotten, with the mission lasting under a year and only nine astronauts visiting the station in three groups of three.
However, the Skylab missions were responsible for an incredible array of scientific discoveries before it dramatically crashed into Western Australia in 1979.
The missions have provided the scientific community with countless and invaluable information about our planet, the sun, space, and the universe itself.
Gibson, who studied solar physics before joining NASA, told MailOnline that seeing the sun from space was ‘very refreshing’ as they ‘had nothing between their observational instruments on the station and the sun itself.
‘We can look at the corona, the region around the sun, just like we do down here.
‘But on Earth we have to wait for a solar eclipse, up there we could see the atmosphere of the sun anytime we were in sunlight.’
He added they could see flares from the sun very clearly, creating a much closer connection between the astronauts and the sun, than would be the case on Earth.
‘The real trick is to understand how a solar flare appears and we got from birth to middle age of a flare, but the resolution of instruments wasn’t enough to really see the details of how it happened.’
Skylab (pictured) was the second space station to launch into orbit, following the Soviet Salyut-1 which launched in 1971
It was the first, and currently only, wholly operated US space station in orbit around the Earth
Here Ed Gibson can be seen standing outside the station, with the Earth in the background
The work Gibson and others did on Skylab has since been used to help develop the field of solar flare forecasting and made way for spaceships like the parker solar probe, currently studying our star up close.
Gibson was in the final Skylab crew along with commander Gerald Carr and pilot William Pogue.
While the purpose of the orbiting facility was scientific in nature, Gibson told MailOnline ‘we still had a lot of fun’ while onboard, including with the food.
‘The food was excellent, we had lobster, filet mignon, it was very well done, I was really surprised and hats off to them all of the way.
The US orbiting lab was significantly larger than its Russian predecessor at 13,000 cubic ft compared to the 3,500 cubic ft of the Russian craft
The crew of SkyLab 4 (pictured left) launched into space in an Apollo command and service module on top of a Saturn IB rocket (right) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida
‘We also had empty calories including butter cookies and other things you punch on down here but not as a stable for a meal, as something on the side to eat.
‘All three of us liked the butter cookies, but we had a limited supply of them and so the butter cookie became the financial currency of Skylab.’
Unpopular tasks would be traded away, or even taken on, in return for the precious cookies that Gibson said ‘tasted the same when he got to Earth.’
It wasn’t just the butter cookies keeping them entertained, they also competed in ‘summersault olympics’ and would hide inside the 14,000 cubic ft space station.
‘One of the days I was off looking for data from a previous mission, I was working behind a large structure and they lost me for half an hour,’ he told MailOnline.
He said the command module that was their ‘escape route’ back to Earth was still docked, ‘so they knew I hadn’t run away’.
Pogue once tried ‘swimming in air’ by putting paddles on his feet and hands to see if he could ‘fly through air in the same way you can fly through water,’ said Gibson.
He added: ‘It was funny to watch but he didn’t have much success,’ adding it was unlikely to ever become a future Olympics sport.
The trio, including Ed Gibson (top), William Pogue (left) and Gerald Carr (right), had a metal Christmas tree made from empty cans
‘The whole experience of life on Skylab, as well as the space walk, changes your perception,’ Gibson told MailOnline
Jack Lousma from the second Skylab crew posed for a photo during a spacewalk
‘We might have a sport in how many barrel roles or summersaults you can do, I have the world record for 10 and a half gainers, that is zero gravity backflips, but I never received any recognition from the Olympic committee about it.’
During his time on the station Gibson had to go out into space during a spacewalk, looking down on the wide Earth spinning below him.
‘The whole experience of life on Skylab, as well as the space walk, changes your perception,’ Gibson told MailOnline.
This is because it ‘makes you realise how ‘one we are’, that the world is one humanity, with different countries and interests, but you get the feeling ‘we are one’ and should behave that way,’ he explained.
Owen Garriott from the second Skylab mission is here on a spacewalk to repair part of the station
The documentary Searching for SkyLab by director Dwight Steven-Boniecki about the first and only wholly NASA operated space station is now available on BluRay
SKYLAB: THE ONLY FULLY OPERATED US SPACE STATION
Skylab was the second space station to launch into orbit, following the SovietSalyut-1 which launched in 1971.
The US orbiting lab was significantly larger than its Russian predecessor at 13,000 cubic ft compared to the 3,500 cubic ft of the Russian craft.
Skylab was the largest human made object to operate in space until the International Space Station launched to operate in 1998.
Three groups of three astronauts lived on Skylab before it was discontinued by NASA in 1974.
- Skylab 2: May 25, 1973
- Skylab 3: July 28, 1973
- Skylab 4: November 16, 1973
- Skylab 5: cancelled
- Skylab Rescue: on standby
It included a workshop, solar observatory, Earth observation and hundreds of other experiments.
There was ‘still life’ in the station after the last crew left in 1974, with about seven months of oxygen, food, water and other supplies remaining.
Unfortunately it was slowly de-orbiting, designed to last about nine years in orbit – dropping 30km by 1980 and another 100km by 1982.
When NASA believed the first Space Shuttle would be ready by 1979 there were plans to send it up to re-orbit the station for future use.
This wasn’t to be the case, due in part to delays to the shuttle, which eventually launched in 1981.
It came to an end in 1979 about 300 miles east of Perth, Western Australia.
A large piece of Skylab debris was displayed on stage during the 1979 Miss Universe pageant in Perth the same year.
Returning to Earth and full gravity was ‘uncomfortable and a little unstable’ feeling a bit like ‘coming home from a party on a Friday night’.
He never returned to space after his time on Skylab, but even now, aged 84, he said he’d love to go back up into orbit again.
‘I would like to fly again but I think if it was a space hotel and a lot of other people were going that would be fine, but I wouldn’t want to take anybody else’s spot.
‘However, if the current space programme wanted to find out what happened to a tired old body in space, I’d happily offer myself up.’
Some of those memories and the moments of America’s only fully operated space station, have been captured by Steven-Beniecki in his new documentary.
Using stunning re-mastered and never-seen-before footage and interviews, Searching for Skylab reveals the incredible feats of science and technology achieved by the space station and the NASA astronauts upon it.
Woven into the film are previously untold eye-witness accounts from the astronauts themselves, capturing their history and stories before they are lost to time.
Additional interviews from the engineers and their families tell the story of those behind the scenes and reveal the human side of what it was like to live through one the most exciting times for space exploration in human history.
Steven-Boniecki said: ‘With Skylab, people wrongly assume that because it crashed into Western Australia, that it was a failure.
‘This belies the fact that the three missions carried out on board single-handedly changed the way in which we live on Earth.
‘Searching for Skylab attempts to shed light on the reasons why and highlights how Skylab was a resounding success.’
Gibson said when they left for the final time, they left it fully operational as they didn’t know if anybody would be going back in the future.
‘We didn’t know what it was going to be, who it was going to be or if anybody was going to be going there at all,’ he told MailOnline.
He said it was upsetting watching it crash into the Earth as ‘it had a lot of life left in it’ but not as much as it could have because we had the idea of ‘building a bigger and better one’ on our minds.
Preparing for a spacewalk was always a lengthy process, including getting into the completely sealed suits
Skylab eventually came to an end in 1979 when it deorbited and came down to Earth about 300 miles east of Perth, Western Australia
Gibson is still inspired by the work of NASA and the commercial space companies, saying we are ‘just stepping out of our cradle’ as a species, venturing into space.
‘We need to push to land humans on Mars, we need to push to move humanity out into our solar system and eventually beyond. We need to see who else is out there.
‘We are bound to extend our human life beyond Earth, it is only a question of when.’
The documentary Searching for SkyLab by director Dwight Steven-Boniecki about the first and only wholly NASA operated space station is now available on BluRay.
Fiery endings for spacecrafts: What has happened to rockets coming back to earth
Shortly after the Tiangong-1 space station re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on Monday, most of it was vaporised, Chinese space officials said, with the remnants expected to have plopped harmlessly somewhere into the Pacific Ocean.
The defunct space lab joins a long list of craft that have burned up as they have hurtled back to Earth.
Here are the some of the more famous ones:
Mir – 2001
Launched in 1986, the Mir station was once a proud symbol of Soviet success in space, despite a series of high-profile accidents and technical problems.
Back to earth: Pieces of the Russian space station Mir races across the sky above Fiji as it makes its descent into the earth’s atmosphere March 23, 2001
But Russian authorities, strapped for cash after the collapse of the Soviet Union, chose to abandon the orbiting outpost in the late 1990s and devote their resources to the International Space Station.
The massive 140-tonne station was brought down by the Russian space agency over the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Chile, and its burning debris was seen streaking across the sky over Fiji.
Salyut 7 – 1991
Salyut 7, launched in 1982, was the last orbiting laboratory under the Soviet Union’s Salyut programme.
When the Mir space station was launched in 1986, Soviet space authorities boosted Salyut 7 to a higher orbit and abandoned it there.
It was supposed to stay in orbit until 1994, but an unexpected increase in drag by the earth’s atmosphere caused it to hurtle down in 1991.
The 40-tonne station broke up on re-entry and the parts that survived scattered over Argentina.
Russians in space: The Mir space station is seen from a nearby space shuttle in 1995
Skylab – 1979
Skylab was the first American space station, launched by NASA in 1973, and was crewed until 1974.
There were proposals to refurbish it later in the decade, but the lab’s orbit began to decay and NASA had to prepare for its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere with only partial control over where it would come down.
The 85-tonne Skylab’s eventual descent over Australia was a worldwide media event, with some newspapers offering thousands of dollars to people who recovered parts of the station that landed.
Columbia – 2003
The disintegration of large spacecraft has not always been without tragedy.
In 2003, NASA’s space shuttle Columbia broke apart during its re-entry into the atmosphere at the end of the STS-107 mission, killing all seven astronauts on board.
Columbia’s left wing was damaged by a piece of debris during launch, leaving the shuttle unable to withstand the extreme temperatures generated by re-entry, and causing it to break apart.
The flaming debris from the 80-tonne craft was caught streaking across the sky over the southern US by local TV stations, with tens of thousands of the doomed shuttle’s parts scattered over Texas and Louisiana.