“Dull, Right?”

Another review of Homesteading Space, recently posted on Amazon:

Apollo’s Forgotten Sibling
By Gary Schroeder “GS23”
For me, Apollo has always been where it’s at. Big rockets, big missions, groundbreaking history. Skylab? A bunch of guys floating around the earth for months at a time. Dull, right? Your mind will most certainly be changed when you read this excellent addition to the “People’s History of Spaceflight” series.

I picked this volume up immediately after finishing the terrific “In the Shadow of the Moon: A Challenging Journey to Tranquility, 1965-1969”. I was so impressed with the quality of “Journey” that I was certain that “Homesteading” would be worth reading. Indeed, I was not disappointed.

Since few authors have ever devoted the kind of attention to Skylab that Apollo has received (aside from the dry, official NASA documents), a void was really waiting to be filled. Until now, there’s been a serious gap in the historical record. One of the best things about the “People’s History” series is its reliance on first-person eyewitness accounts. In this volume, the story of Skylab is brought to life by those who designed it, lived aboard it and supported it from the ground. “Homesteading” relies heavily upon lengthy quotes from the astronauts themselves, assembled from relatively recent (post-2000) oral histories. The reader gets direct accounts from Alan Beam, Jack Lousma, Owen Garriot, Joe Kerwin, Paul Weitz and many others. (It’s terribly unfortunate that Pete Conrad’s untimely death in 1999 prevented him from being similarly interviewed as he considered his crew’s rescue of Skylab more significant than his Apollo 12 lunar landing mission.)

The tales range from the high drama of rescuing Skylab from its nearly fatal launch malfunction to chronicles of the reality of living in space for extended periods. Other interesting bits include detailed descriptions of how the second parasol was deployed by the second crew and how two malfunctioning RCS quads almost necessitated a “rescue mission” of that crew. There’s also a great and detailed description of what it was like to ride the Saturn 1B into orbit — something I’ve seen nowhere else.

With the success of observatories like Hubble, robotic astronomy is something we now take for granted, but in 1973 humans armed with film-based cameras were needed to collect images of the sun that could not be obtained by earth-bound observers. Skylab delivered a tremendous scientific return for a comparatively modest investment. “Homesteading” spends quite a bit of time recounting that scientific research. (My one quibble with the book is that the chapter “Science on Skylab” near the end recapitulates much of what was covered in earlier chapters.)

“Homesteading Space” will make you pine for the days before spaceflight had become “routine” in the shuttle era. It will also make you wistful for the days when the U.S. had the machinery to launch a cavernous space station into orbit in a single shot, something that was given up in favor of a system that in retrospect seems like a regrettable 25-year detour.

One Response

  1. What a glowing review! Congrats!!

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