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Skylab and ISS crews trade notes
by Jim Banke,

November 11, 2003 — Some of America's first astronauts to work aboard an orbiting space station took time Monday to compare notes with the Expedition Eight crew now living at the International Space Station (ISS).

Alan Bean — an Apollo 12 Moonwalker and commander of the second Skylab mission — joined Bill Pogue, who flew the final Skylab mission, in speaking with ISS crewmembers Mike Foale and Alexander Kaleri.

"My hats off to you up there. I only spent 59 days in space with my two crewmates and you're going to be up there six months," Bean said from the station's science operations mission control at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "I know that it's a heck of a challenge and takes a lot of self discipline and knowledge."

"It's not so difficult when you're well trained and well prepared," Foale said, praising the flight control teams associated with the mission, as well as his colleague in space, Kaleri, who already has logged more than 400 days in orbit from previous missions.

The NASA public affairs event, broadcast live on NASA TV, was part of festivities in Huntsville marking the 30th anniversary of the Skylab program.

"I remember that 30 years ago I was a first year student of aerospace specialty, and I was very interested in your flights, your three missions," Kaleri, a Russian cosmonaut, told the Skylab veterans. "And now I can understand all the difficulties you met in these missions."

Assembled from hardware built for Project Apollo, Skylab was an empty third stage of the Saturn 5 Moon rocket in which the liquid hydrogen tank was configured with all the comforts of home, while the empty liquid oxygen tank served as a giant trash container. A docking module added to the top of the stage also held in place a solar telescope and attached windmill-shaped solar array.

The workshop was launched into low Earth orbit atop a two-stage version of the Saturn 5 on May 14, 1973. The station's thermal protection shield was ripped free during the climb through the atmosphere and nearly crippled the program. Fast action by NASA saved the station when the first crew was launched 11 days later with a repair kit.

Each of the crews were launched to the station in Apollo command and service modules atop Saturn 1B rockets. The crews spent 28, 59 and 84 days in space during 1973 and 1974, giving the U.S. it's first exposure to long-duration spaceflight.

Standard tours of duty aboard today's ISS are about six months.

Skylab became infamous for its uncontrolled plunge through Earth's atmosphere in 1979, raining debris over the Indian Ocean and western Australia.

One of the things the ISS has become infamous for — high noise levels in parts of the outpost — was discussed by the space travelers.

"Listening to your talk, I don't hear much background noise," Pogue said. "Is it as quiet up there as it seems in this conversation?"

Foale and Kaleri looked at each other, exchanged a smile, and Foale answered.

"Well... actually, the lab is pretty quiet. And when experiments are not running it is quiet indeed. It depends on where you are, of course, Bill," Foale said. "When you go near the large fans that are scrubbing the air in the service module, where the CO2 is being scrubbed, there is some noise there. Also where the air conditioning is taking place where the water is being taken out of the air here and recycled for us to drink. That also makes some noise."

"More towards the Russian segment you'll here more fan noise, more like a deep rumble, but it's a comforting sound. It means that everything is working well," Foale.

ISS crew members and visitors often wear earplugs if they have to work in those noisier areas.

The Skylab and ISS crews wrapped up their conversation with a discussion of solar radiation, which has been a prime topic of concern during the recent burst of solar flares.

Foale reported that Kaleri was the radiation officer and dutifully recorded readings from dosimeters each day.

Pogue then asked about the effects on the crew when the station passes through the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), where the radiation belts that circle Earth dip slightly lower and routinely expose astronauts to a slight increase in radiation.

Foale responded with a discussion of the "white flashes" that many crewmembers see, especially at night.

The phenomena takes place, it is thought, when a cosmic ray of some kind passes through the optic nerve and stimulates the brain into seeing a white flash of light, even though there was nothing to actually see.

Pogue and Foale discussed how it happens more frequently in the SAA and Pogue remembered that it was easier seen "at night" when your eyes are adjusted to the dark. He fondly recalled doing experiments on the flashes during his 84-day stay in space.

"It was really spectacular," Pogue said.

This article first appeared on It is reprinted here with permission.

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