Skylab: From Space to Your Classroom

Many young students look up at the sky and dream about exploring distant planets. But sometimes it can be challenging to channel these interests into relevant classroom concepts. It’s important to find ways to show students how they can stretch the limits of possibility with math and science, which teachers can encourage by exploring students’ natural curiosity in the classroom. And no NASA mission stays more true to the spirit of curiosity than Skylab, the first U.S. space station.

The Mission

The idea for a space station had long been a dream for NASA officials and scientists since the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1970s, after technological developments allowed for safer, more affordable space missions, that this dream would be realized.

NASA’s Skylab was the first U.S. space station. Its 1973 launch followed the 1971 launch of the world’s first space station, Russia’s Salyut 1. While America’s Space Race with Russia was a contributing factor to the development of Skylab, the program had loftier goals to contribute further to space exploration and research. The Skylab program aimed to see if leftover rockets from the Apollo missions could be reused, to study solar activity, and to monitor the effects of long-term space travel on the human body.

Skylab was launched unmanned on May 14, 1973. Despite initial technical failures, the first manned mission to Skylab occurred on May 25, 1973. During Skylab’s orbit from 1973 to 1979, a total of nine astronauts occupied the space station for 171 days. The crews conducted over 300 experiments, including studies on solar activity, the effects of weightlessness on the human body, and Earth’s natural resources.

As the first American space station, Skylab demonstrated that it was possible for humans to live in space for extended periods of time. Thanks to the dedication of Skylab’s team, the mission paved the way for future long-term space missions.

Teaching Resources

Skylab had a lasting effect on space travel. It’s important for students to understand how this pivotal mission affected the way we understand the Earth, space, and even our own bodies.

The University of Oregon provides a free comparison of the U.S. Skylab and Russian Salyut missions to teach students about the origins of the Space Race. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum offers a simple guide to Skylab’s mission, crew, and legacy for understanding its effect on future mission. Teachers can also read NASA’s articles on the full story of Skylab’s creation, life on Skylab, and the project’s legacy.

Still not sure how to integrate the inspiring story of Skylab into your classroom? Check out this free resource from Teacher to Teacher to integrate Skylab with English, math, and science lesson plans.

The true reach of Skylab’s impact on the scientific community will only continue to grow as the next generation of dreamers, explorers, and scientists learn in our classrooms from great teachers. NASA EPDC is here to help our teachers succeed in STEM education. For more resources, visit our onlineEducator Center. You can also learn more about Skylab on NASA’s website.