Monday, August 11, 2008
"Skylab was launched 14 May 1973 by a Saturn INT-21 (a two-stage version of the Saturn V launch vehicle) into a 235 nautical mile (435 km) orbit. The launch is sometimes referred to as Skylab 1, or SL-1. Severe damage was sustained during launch, including the loss of the station's micrometeoroid shield/sun shade and one of its main solar panels. Debris from the lost micrometeoroid shield further complicated matters by pinning the remaining solar panel to the side of the station, preventing its deployment and thus leaving the station with a huge power deficit. The station underwent extensive repair during a spacewalk by the first crew, which launched on 25 May 1973 (the SL-2 mission) atop a Saturn IB. If the crew had failed to repair Skylab in time, the plastic insulation inside the station would have melted, releasing poisonous gas and making Skylab completely uninhabitable. They stayed in orbit with Skylab for 28 days. Two additional missions followed on 28 July 1973 (SL-3) and 16 November 1973 (SL-4) with stay times of 59 and 84 days, respectively. The last Skylab crew returned to Earth on 8 February 1974."
This was the early history... The rest is a bit more depressing (to be fair the whole project had problems.) You see Skylab needed to be boosted from time to time to maintain orbit. There were several plans to do this, but none came about. Towards the end, it was planned that space shuttle visits would repair and boost the station from time to time. But the shuttle came online later than expected, and solar activity increased.
"Increased solar activity, heating the outer layers of the Earth's atmosphere and thereby increasing drag on Skylab, led to an early reentry at approximately 16:37 UTC 11 July 1979. In the weeks leading up to the reentry, ground controllers had re-established contact with the six year old vehicle, and were able to adjust its attitude for optimal reentry dynamics. Earth reentry footprint was a narrow band (approx. 4° wide) beginning at about [show location on an interactive map] 48° S 87° E and ending at about [show location on an interactive map] 12° S 144° E, an area covering portions of the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. Debris was found between Esperance and Rawlinna, 31–34°S, 122–126°E. The Shire of Esperance fined the United States $400 for littering, a fine which, to this day, remains unpaid."