Sunday, January 11, 2009

Skylab student project entry form

Here's a little something that I picked up at NASA Headquarters in the summer of 1971. It is an entry form for students to submit ideas for projects to be flown aboard Skylab.

NASA wanted to use Skylab not only for 'official' experiments from scientists and researchers, but also as an opportunity for creative ideas from students to be investigated. At this point in the space program, we didn't have experience with microgravity for more than a few days at a time, and the time and space available for experiments on the Apollo flights were next to nothing. Skylab offered the chance to see experiments unfold over the course of up to 84 days, and there was plenty of room to try new things.

An illustrative example cited in the application form was an experiment to investigate the behavior of paper airplanes in zero-g. Interestingly, Al Bean and his Skylab 2 crew actually played with paper airplanes in the cavernous Skylab interior. Bean noted that you had to make them with more folds than traditional Earth-bound paper airplanes. You also had to be careful not to give them too much lift (bending the ailerons up), or they would circle in ever-tighter spirals. Bean and crew almost filmed some of their experiments with the paper airplanes, but they decided not to, believing that the public would think they were wasting taxpayer money.

Perhaps the most famous of the Skylab student experiments was to see how spiders would spin webs in zero-g. Arabelle the spider became world-famous. Her initial webs were chaotic, but within a week, she spun normal webs just like those on Earth. Bean and crew were somewhat resentful of the attention that Arabelle got. The media paid much more attention to her than she did to all the other science being conducted on Skylab. Indeed, many people seemed to think that Arabelle was the only experiment being conducted on board, and they wondered why NASA would spend so much money and effort just to study spider webs in space.

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