The day when three NASA astronauts staged a strike in space

tags: NASA, astronauts

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik writes the daily blog “The Economy Hub.” His business column appears every Sunday and Wednesday. As a member of the Los Angeles Times staff, he has been a financial and technology writer and a foreign correspondent.  Thumbnail Image - The strikers of Skylab 4 before taking off in 1973: from left, Jerry Carr, Ed Gibson and William Pogue. (NASA)

Blows on behalf of fair labor treatment don't always have to come from factory workers. Sometimes they're delivered by unionized professors or even multimillionaire ballplayers. On Dec. 28, 1973, or 42 years ago Monday, one was delivered by three U.S. astronauts orbiting the globe in NASA's Skylab -- a one-day sit-down strike in space.

As Erik Loomis retells the story, mission commander Jerry Carr, science pilot Ed Gibson and pilot William Pogue were in the midst of what would become a record 84-day mission, the last before the spacecraft was to be decommissioned, when they rebelled against NASA's remorseless work schedule. 

They knew before going up that the pace would be punishing -- 84 days of 16 hours each without a break, filled with minute-by-minute scheduling for observations of the sun and Comet Kohoutek, medical tests, photographing of the Earth below, and four spacewalks.

Other astronauts on the ground team, including the commanders of the previous two Skylab missions, advised NASA that the plans were unreasonable. None of the three astronauts on the Skylab 4 mission had been in space before, but NASA hadn't factored in any time for them to become acclimated to conditions aloft. They were plainly overscheduled. In fact, Pogue almost immediately came down with debilitating nausea. 

Relations between the crew and mission control started off on the wrong foot. The crew treated Pogue's spacesickness as a passing bug (they were right) and didn't bother to report it to Houston, which turned out to be secretly eavesdropping on their onboard conversations and upbraided them for keeping secrets.  ...

Read entire article at The Los Angeles Times

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