restricted access 8. "Marooned"
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8. “Marooned” There are some things you just don’t want to hear in space. Among them: “There goes one of our thrusters floating by.” The launch of the second crew of Skylab was something of a rarity in the history of human spaceflight. While it’s not uncommon for space launches to be delayed, scrubbed, and otherwise pushed back, the launch of the :'-™ Saturn # was actually pushed forward. Though it had originally been scheduled for } August }u™, concerns over the condition of the parasol installed by the first crew and the station’s “attitude-measuring” gyroscopes led to a decision to launch the second crew sooner so that the unmanned period could be shortened, and they could assume their role as Skylab’s caretakers more promptly. On July the crew was told that they would be leaving earlier than planned and had less than four weeks to prepare for being away from the planet for a couple of months. Launch would be [ July. For rookie astronauts Garriott and Lousma, the moment they had long awaited had finally arrived. After seven to eight years of training and simulations , the two, along with veteran Bean, were about to be on their way to space. Jack Lousma was struck by the way the Saturn # looked as the crew arrived at the pad. “It was dark when we got out there,” Lousma said. “I remember seeing it steaming away, and the oxygen venting, and the searchlights .” He remembered thinking to himself, “It’s just like ¤¤}.” (“Which was then almost thirty years away, but it’s history now,” he added.) It was at that point that he realized that he was finally doing this for real; after all those years, the simulations were over. “At least they looked serious about it.” There are a few special moments that somehow get placed into memory bank for the rest of one’s life. Since the science pilot lies in the middle couch for launch, he was the last to board so that he wasn’t in the way of the other two crewmembers as they got into their couches for launch. The ground crew ™[• |• “)833*” would first assist the commander into the left couch and get him all strapped in and connected up—a tradition that can still be seen today on television in preparation for each Shuttle launch. Then, after the commander, it was done again for the pilot in the right couch. At these times the science pilot was left standing on the walkway for some five minutes all by himself with his private thoughts some ™[¤ feet above the ground, and looking out over the entire launch complex. “There was a long training period leading up to this moment,” Garriott recalled. “A fiery rocket would soon take our speed from zero to over five miles a second in less than ten minutes. Yes, it was probably the most dangerous ten minutes of the entire mission for us—and probably of our entire lives, for that matter—but we had planned for it for years, and we knew the options for escape if that should become necessary. Were we scared? I would say ‘no,’ but we knew the risks and had a healthy regard for the potential for disaster. Yet it was a very pleasant and introspective few minutes, which I have remembered for decades. Only more recently have I learned how other crewmen, and especially the other two science pilots, still recall and treasure these few moments waiting on the walkway.” If Lousma was at all scared at that point, he handled the pressure well—“I fell asleep on the launch pad,” he recalled. Finally the countdown reached zero, and the wait was over. The :'-™ Saturn # cleared the pad, and the crew was on their way into orbit. “One of the things I remember distinctly about launch was we had to get rid of the launch escape tower,” Lousma said. After the spacecraft reached an altitude where the launch escape tower was no longer needed for an abort situation, its motor was fired to separate the tower and its shroud from the Command Module. “When we did, that uncovered all the windows. After climbing to a considerable attitude, the escape tower took off like a scalded eagle. You could see a lot more.” His first experience with staging, when one stage of the rocket burns out and separates and the next fires, is another memory that has stayed with him. “The engine shut...