Saturday, May 5, 2012

Skylab 3 press kit from the US DoD

This week’s artifact is a press kit issued by the United States Department of Defense to describe the contribution of the military to the Skylab 3 mission. Probably the most visible role was that of the recovery forces: prior to the Space Shuttle, American spacecraft landed (“splashed down”) in the ocean. The astronauts and their capsule were recovered by helicopter and brought aboard an aircraft carrier waiting nearby.

However, as the press kit points out, the military involvement went far beyond recovering the spacecraft. Throughout Skylab 3’s launch and return, 2,260 members of the United States Air Force and United States Navy provided tracking, communications, safety, rescue, and meteorological services. Three ships and 51 aircraft were assigned to these efforts: a sizeable undertaking.

To most people, perhaps the most interesting thing about the document is how incredibly crude its production appears by today’s standards. The document itself is sixty pages of heavy stock in the old government letter size of 8” × 10½” (203 mm × 267 mm). Black-and-white printing appears on one side of the page only.

In 2012, any crank who hands out flyers on a street corner has slicker-looking material than the US Department of Defense was producing only forty years ago. Conversely, I’m struck by how closely some vintage sci-fi fanzines from the same era in my collection resemble this press kit: those amateurs were doing some impressive work.

One day, I’d like to scan the entire document for posterity, but the stapled binding on my copy is very tight, and getting good scans without damaging it will be a time-consuming challenge. For now, here are a few representative pages that deal with the recovery effort by USS New Orleans off the coast of California. New Orleans was flagship of Task Force 130, based at Pearl Harbor under Rear Admiral John L. Butts, Jr.


Copyright information: The text and images in this press kit are the work of the United States federal government, and therefore in the public domain.

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