In 1979 I was twelve and hearing on the news that a space workstation named Skylab was falling to earth. It was exciting to me…I was hoping that a piece of it would fall near so I could touch something that had been flying through space.
That didn’t happen because unless I was Australian I was not going to see any debris. In school, our science teacher went over the event and I do remember people wearing Skylab t-shirts, hats, and buttons.
Watching the news…there were some people panicking and…some people partying. This is from Newsweek in 1979
In various parts of the country, wags painted X’s on their neighbors’ roofs or sported T-shirts with targets on the back. Entrepreneurs sold plastic helmets and Skylab survival kits compete with bags for collecting stray parts of the spacecraft and letters suing NASA for damages. “I don’t know how much we’re making, but we’re having fun,” said Steven Danzig, 25, of Bloomington, Ind., who sold more than 20,000 such kits. In Washington, a bar called Mr. Smith’s sold a concoction dubbed the Chicken Little Special.
Around the U.S., there were Skylab parties to coincide with the crash, and betting pools on precisely when or where the debris would come streaking back to earth.
Skylab was designed to go up but not come back down. It was launched in 1973 and was occupied for almost 24 weeks. There was a lot of time and money spent on how to get it up there but not much time on how to get it down. It only had a 9-year life span, to begin with. In 1979 it was clear that Skylab was rapidly descending orbit.
On July 12, 1979, Skylab came back to earth in the Indian Ocean and in Western Australia. No one was injured by the falling debris.
The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 reward for anyone bringing a part of Skylab to their office. They knew it wasn’t going to hit America so it was a safe bet they would not have to pay…but Stan Thornton…an Australian truck driver heard about the reward, grabbed a piece of debris and jumped on a plane to San Francisco and got the reward.