restricted access 1. From the Ground Up
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1. From the Ground Up The task of turning a spent rocket stage into a livable space station was proving more difficult than anticipated. The man in the spacesuit was attempting to carry out the tasks that would convert the used, empty fuel tank into an orbital workshop. It was a daunting challenge. If the series of steps could be carried out, it would provide an expedient path to homesteading space. If not the station as designed would be worthless, an unusable husk. For the plan to work, when it came to these tasks, one of the agency’s great truisms definitely applied—failure was not an option. Almost immediately, he ran into problems. Loosening the bolts before him was a simple enough task on the ground. Here though it was substantially more difficult. When he turned his wrench, instead of the bolts rotating, he did. The bolts were held in place, and since he was floating, there was nothing to keep him still. The gloves he had to wear only made things worse. Their bulkiness made it difficult to perform precise tasks. The fact that his suit was pressurized meant that it took effort to move the fingers of the glove. After a while, his hands would become sore from the effort. It was too much to ask, he realized. It couldn’t be done. Reluctantly, he signaled to the safety divers to bring him to the surface. That revelation was to be a turning point in the development of Skylab, America’s first space station, and may well have saved the program. The man in the spacesuit was Dr. George Mueller, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (*:’s) associate administrator of Manned Space Flight, and the event took place in a water tank at *:’s Marshall Space Flight Center ():) in Huntsville, Alabama. Mueller had been trying to find the best solution to the latest in a string of difficult decisions involving the orbital workshop. His quest for answers had led him to get handson experience himself with a simulated space station. The agency had already decided that a Saturn #C rocket stage would be converted for use as the workshop. (Its name is a relic from early nomenclature for the Saturn rocket series.) Because launching more weight into space requires more fuel, every effort is made to reduce weight on a spacecraft. Dividing rockets into stages is one way that can be accomplished—when the fuel in one section is gone, that section separates, and the rest of the rocket continues. That way the rocket doesn’t have to haul the weight of empty fuel tanks the entire trip. Though there was agreement that the :n#C stage should be used for the workshop, there were two schools of thought as to how that should be done. The initial idea was to launch the workshop as part of a Saturn # rocket, the smaller of the two Saturn boosters. That rocket was not powerful enough to deliver a completed workshop to space, but it could place its :n#C upper }. George Mueller (left) and Wernher von Braun prepare for dives. 83)•=•83B*•B5• |• ™ stage in orbit. Once the :n#C was there, a crew of astronauts could convert the spent stage into a space station. Because this plan involved the station being launched full of fuel, it was known as the “wet workshop.” The other option was to use the larger and far more powerful Saturn C. That booster also used an :n#C as its third stage. The workshop could be readied for use on the ground, and stacked on the Saturn C in place of the third stage. The first two stages would carry the heavy payload into orbit. This latter option was the “dry workshop.” As *:’s supply of Saturn C boosters was dedicated to the upcoming missions to carry men to the moon, the wet workshop option would allow the orbital workshop program to proceed simultaneously with the Apollo moonlanding program, using the more readily available Saturn # rockets. The plan, though, depended on the ability of astronauts to convert a fuel tank, which had just expended its supply of volatile liquid hydrogen and oxygen, into a home where they could safely live during the months to come. The crew would have to dock with the spent stage and then, working in bulky pressure suits, remove several bolts to gain access to its large liquid hydrogen tank. Then the astronauts...