On May 15th, 1973, NASA launched the first space station. The first three-person crew took up residence 11 days later. Over the course of roughly six months and three crews, Skylab served as a base for scientific research conducted in space. The astronauts’ schedule of experimentation and observation also included scientific demonstrations broadcast to Earth for use in high school curriculum as well as 19 student experiments, making Skylab the first space classroom.
Skylab High School in Space (Local Identifier: 255-M-75-418) covers the incorporation of Skylab’s scientific demonstrations into high school curriculum, and the range of experiments and students who participated in the Skylab Student Experiment Project.
In a nationwide contest, students across the country submitted a total of 3409 proposals to the Skylab Student Experiment Project, with 25 selected as winners. After further assessment, NASA officials determined that 19 were suitable for Skylab’s conditions. The experiments covered a wide range of topics, from astronomy to zoology. In one experiment, astronauts tested their hand-eye coordination over time with a special device, and in another, the crew observed the web-making of spiders in zero gravity
Student Kathy Jackson’s experiment used a hand-eye coordination testing device to determine whether the astronauts’ skill would decrease over time spent in space. There was not a significant difference in performance (Stills from Skylab High School in Space (Local Identifier: 255-M-75-418).
NASA’s space classroom served not only as an exciting learning opportunity for America’s students, but also as a way to connect space exploration more directly to the public when interest waned after the moon landing. At the time, the program was deemed a resounding success. More recently, a study of the original participants found that their experience had made a lasting impact on their lives and future careers. Pioneered half a century ago, NASA’s space classroom continues today through the educational programs on the International Space Station.
For much more on the Skylab Student Experiment Project, see Skylab, Classroom in Space, a 1977 NASA publication available online at: https://history.nasa.gov/SP-401/contents.htm