A few days ago I made a joke about Skylab (and Elmo re-enacting its fiery descent) and it turns out that July 11 was the 32nd anniversary of that very event — Skylab falling to Earth, not Elmo re-enacting it. From Wired:
The first U.S. space station, launched in May 1973 as a science and engineering laboratory, was not a success. Originally intended to remain in orbit as a shelter for crews from the new space shuttle program, Skylab was badly damaged during liftoff and plagued thereafter by a power deficit that played a significant role in its premature demise.
…Three crews traveled to Skylab aboard Apollo spacecraft — spending a total of 171 days aboard and returning by splashdown — and some repairs were made. The space station was placed in a parking orbit after the third Apollo crew departed, to await the eventual arrival of the first space shuttle. But delays in getting the shuttle program off the ground, coupled with Skylab’s deteriorating orbit, compelled NASA to consign its space station to a fiery death.
…The San Francisco Examiner, in one of its loopier promotional campaigns, even offered $10,000 (about $30,000 in today’s money) to the first person who could deliver a chunk of Skylab debris to the paper’s newsroom. [Disclosure: I was on the Examiner’s editorial staff at the time.]
That person turned out to be Stan Thornton, a 17-year-old from Esperance, Australia.