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Skylab, America's first space station, launched 40 years ago today

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On March 14th, 1973, a Saturn V rocket launched into space with an important mission: putting Skylab, the first US space station, into orbit. The station had an inauspicious start: during liftoff, vibrations caused a meteoroid shield to rip off and made one of the two primary solar arrays unusable. Turning the second array towards the sun without the shield led temperatures inside the craft to rise to over 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The only thing that saved it from becoming permanently uninhabitable was the work of NASA engineers and a three-man crew, who performed an unplanned spacewalk to repair it.

Over the next year, three teams would spend a total of 171 days in space performing experiments and maintaining the station. Though it was supposed to remain in orbit for eight to ten years afterwards, Skylab didn't last that long. By 1977, its orbit was no longer stable, and in 1979 it was sent back into Earth's atmosphere, where pieces of it fell across the Indian Ocean and parts of western Australia. But it opened the door to future programs, including the International Space Station in use today. In honor of its launch, Wired has compiled a photo essay spanning its life, and brought back a report of NASA's 40th anniversary roundtable. The full presentation can be found below.