Friday, September 4, 2009

's SMEAT time!

The Beta cloth patch at left ranks as one of my all-time favorite Apollo-era mission emblems.

SMEAT, short for the Skylab Medical Experiments Altitude Test, was a full-up dress rehearsal for missions aboard Skylab, the US's first space station. SMEAT duplicated all of the medical experiments, food, and equipment that were planned for Skylab. It even duplicated Skylab's reduced-pressure atmosphere. Since it was conducted on Earth, though, the crew obviously could not experience weightlessness.

SMEAT ran from July 26 through September 20, 1972, simulating a full 56-day duration Skylab mission. The crew consisted of Commander Robert Crippen, Karol "Bo" Bobko, and Dr. William Thornton, M.D. None of the crew actually flew during Apollo or Skylab, but all three subsequently flew on the Space Shuttle. Crippen was the Pilot for the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle.

SMEAT was invaluable in testing medical equipment and systems before they were installed aboard Skylab. Once Skylab was launched, there would have been no way to replace equipment that didn't work properly or subsequently broke. Thornton, a large and powerful man, was particularly noted for his ability to destroy test equipment during his "normal" exercise routines. Several pieces of exercise equipment were beefed up after Thornton defeated them, and none of those uprated items subsequently broke down during the Skylab missions.

Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz designed the SMEAT patch, continuing his long association with the American space program. Symbolizing the "grounded" nature of the mission, a distressed-looking Snoopy is being held back to Earth instead of flying among the stars!