Skylab IV Splashed Down on This Day: Five Things the Most Complaining Space Crew Ever Bitched About
Skylab IV splashed down on this day in 1974, ending the last mission to America's first space station.
They were glad to get home.
The crew of Skylab IV -- William Pogue, Gerald Carr and Edward Gibson -- became famous for the sheer amount of complaining they did.
Arguments with NASA over the amount of work they were assigned became so bad that the crew staged a one-day strike.
Among the things they complained about during the 84-day mission:
5. Fashion In Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, author Nicholas de Monchaux quotes a Skylab IV crew member on what they were forced to wear.
"I just get tired of this damn brown!" Skylab IV scientist Edward Gibson lamented...about his own clothing, supplied only in a yellowish-brown fireproof polyester. Skylab IV mission pilot William Pogue judged that using them was "sort of like drying off with padded steel wool."
The brown!! Good God, the brown!!
4. The workload The Skylab IV astronauts staged an actual strike in space, a mini-mutiny over how much work they were being given. They famously turned their ground communications off and did whatever they wanted.
Skylab IV was crewed by three rookies, and that was a bad move, says the author of Fundamentals of Space Medicine, Gilles Clement.
"All the astronauts of Skylab-4 were first-time flyers (rookies). Before they got adjusted, Mission Control transferred to them the same busy schedule as their predecessors in the space station," Clement writes. He says NASA mandated at least one veteran per crew on all ensuing missions.
The Skylab IV astronauts not only bitched about the amount of work, but the nature of it. Commander Gerald Carr testified to Congress: "If [an astronaut] is nothing but a switch-twiddler working against a clock, he is going to become very bored, and he is going to have psychological problems."
3. Feeling less than fresh Eventually the complaints built up and the crew had a come-to-Jesus meeting with ground control. Talking with capcom Richard Truly, there was a complaint about working out. Again from the official history:
Turning to specific scheduling problems, Truly spoke of physical exercise, which Carr felt strongly about. Truly pointed out that the 90 minutes set aside for exercise caused serious scheduling difficulty. The only solution the planners had found was to break it up into two 45-minute sessions. Carr interrupted to give his side of the question: he wanted time to cool down and clean up after a workout on the ergometer because he despised rushing off to some other job feeling grimy and hot. Doing that twice a day was more than he could take.
From the official NASA history:
Gibson feared that the doctors would overreact if they knew of the vomiting. Carr wavered. He considered reporting Pogue's illness but not the vomiting. "I'd just say he doesn't feel like eating." But a few minutes before the medical conference, he told Pogue, "I think we better tell the truth tonight.... Because we're going to have a fecal/vomitus bag to turn in, although I guess we could throw that down the trash airlock and forget the whole thing.... Gibson liked that idea: "I think all the managers would be happy."
Vomiting was worse than nausea in the flight surgeons' view, and it would be simple to dispose of the bag and report only that Pogue was nauseated. The distinction was a fine one, hardly worth the uproar that would result if they reported what actually happened. So, as Gibson put it, they could keep the incident "between you, me, and the couch. You know darn well, the scientist-pilot incautiously added, "that every manager at NASA would probably, under his breath, want us to do just that."
The astronauts forgot that Skylab was, as one reporter put it, "bugged more than Nixon's Oval Office." NASA got a transcript of the conversation the next day, and told the crew they had "made a fairly serious error in judgment."
1. Lack of sex The crew answered some questions from a sixth-grade class, the official history says:
The student's questions were, if anything, more penetrating than the newsmen's. One that gave Bill Pogue pause was whether the astronaut felt more of a man now, as compared with before you left?" Pogue begged off the philosophical implications of that one, but did allow that he was a better crewman-that is, a more efficient astronaut-after 77 days. Several students wondered whether the three missed female companionship. Taken somewhat aback, Gibson asked, "What grade did you say that was, Dick?" (Nobody had put that question so directly before.) Then he answered, "Obviously, yes.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.