Mutiny on the Skylab

December 1973: The month that astronauts rebelled against NASA.


  1. You can still see the effects of this on scheduling for ISS – I’ve worked ground support for payloads on the space station, and one of the general scheduling rules is basically “Thou shalt not touch the astronaut’s mealtimes, personal time, or rack time.” We had a payload that was basically a linux computer that controlled a refrigerator, and we weren’t even allowed to issue a reboot command during sleep periods because it cause a single, low-volume beep.

    1. If I was an astronaut I don’t think I’d mind assuming you’d have given me some warning before heading to sleep.  Because if not, having a low volume single beep wake me from my slumber inside a sealed vessel sitting in a vacuum thousands of miles above the Earth…yeah I’d probably freak the fuck out.  It’s not like in my house where I can just go, “Oh I’ll figure it out later.” and not worry about the potential lack of oxygen.

  2. Something is wrong with the story:

    “Skylab 4 broke all duration records. Carr, Pogue, and Gibson launched on November 16, 1973, on a demanding 84 day mission. Their plan called for a total of 6,051 working hours between the three men…”

    That works out to just over 24 hours per day, which is beyond the endurance of even heroic astronauts.

    1. Don’t you get a tiny time travel effect when in orbit due to the high speed relative to the earth’s surface? So 24 hours a day for all 3 of them plus working any bonus time earned due to relativity. No slacking!

    2. I am guessing that some experiments and such could be running while they were doing other things, sleeping or multitasking.

    3.  Yup, 6,051 divided by 84 days, divided by 3 crew, ends up being 24 hours for work, per day, per person, for 84 days. Don’t people start to go nuts after 3 days up straight, even with stimulants?

    1. From this photo, it looks like they were starving them.  Maybe they were just hypoglycemic.

  3. My pops worked for IBM and they had a contract with NASA to work together on Skylab, so we moved to Houston. We lived in Clear Lake Forest, where the most of the astronaut families lived, and at night we would stand in the street and, with the naked eye, track Skylab  as it passed overhead. That was a great time to be so close to those invovled in the Space Race.

  4. “They announced an unscheduled day off, turned off the communications radio, and got some rest. . .”

    Reading the word “mutiny,” I was kind of hoping for attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or something. . . .

    1.  And it wasn’t even a mutiny.  To put this in Boing-Boing terms, if Picard, Riker, and Data all agree to tell Starfleet to get stuffed, that’s disobeying orders.  If Riker and Data decide to relieve Picard of duty, that’s mutiny.  In this case, Carr=Picard, Pogue=Riker, Gibson=Data.   And I didn’t see any indication that Carr wasn’t a participant in this plan.

  5. Huh. It never occurred to me that astronauts would not do what they were told. Space flight is such a specialized, potentially dangerous activity that I just assumed that NASA and the astronauts would be in perfect sync about missions.

    The article mentions the astronauts were rookies. Maybe they were not the best astronauts.

      1. Yeah… because it’s a “specialized, potentially dangerous activity” I would assume ground control suggesting that the astronauts should work through their meal times and rest days wouldn’t be the brightest of ideas.

    1. Do you not know how hard Ed Harris fought for astronauts to have some independence of action?  While Fred Willard repeated, “Fuckin’ A, Bubba!”

    2. If the instructions coming from the ground don’t make sense or don’t apply to the situation in space, it’s the duty of the crew to take the necessary action. Officers are expected to obey their conscience over their orders, though that won’t excuse them from a court marshal. That these three never flew again probably has more to do with the 7 year gap between skylab and the shuttle.

  6. One of the “problems” was that the proceeding crew, Skylab 3, blew the chains off the productivity scale, so NASA was probably expecting something similar with Skylab 4. Once Mission Control backed off, the crew wound up completing more work than had been assigned.

    But turning off the communications to ground control? I can see why they never flew in space again, nobody puts Mission Control in a corner. 

    1. Mission Control’s job is to support the mission, which means supporting the astronauts among other things. If they failed to do that, they should have been fired.

  7. This is an accurate history of the situation according to Pogue and Carr. What it did leave out was an incident at launch where Pogue threw up into his launch suit. Carr decided not to tell Mission Control about the incident (to keep Pogue from embarrassment) but sensors in the suit started showing ground that something was off. When Carr admitted the failure to report, Mission Control got really rude, on line, with open channels to the media. The dressing Carr took was the first public embarrassment of any Astronaut (who were at that time just one slim dime from being gods in the eyes of the public and their own) and set up the mutiny.

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