On this day in 1973 Skylab, the first American space station, was launched by NASA atop the last of its Saturn V rockets. Weighing 100 tons, the station was visited by three crews in 1973 and 1974; the first of these, and at 28 days the shortest, was commanded by Pete Conrad. Subsequent missions lasted 59 and 84 days and were led by Jack Lousma and William Pogue respectively.
Two fully functional Skylabs were built; the second one is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. A third, used for training purposes, resides at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, while a fourth - constructed mostly from spare parts - is currently being restored at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Skylab famously de-orbited in July 1979, at which time chunks of it were scattered over the Australian town of Esperance... When the San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 reward to the first person to return a piece of the debris to their offices Stan Thornton, 17, simply took a piece off of the roof of his house, hopped on a plane, and claimed the money. Even stranger: days later, at the Miss Universe pageant (that year held in Perth) a piece of the wreckage was displayed onstage. A $400 fine for littering issued by the Shire of Esperance at the time* remained in default for 30 years, but was finally paid** in April 2009 - although not by NASA but rather on NASA's behalf - by listeners to a program on California-based Highway Radio, hosted by Scott Barley.
*Somewhat tongue-in-cheekily it must be pointed out!
**As reported by our new media cohorts at the blog Radio 2020.
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