I think we're all aware of the great things we're celebrating here: The
Roll on Tuesday, and now the Saturn V celebration. And we know the great
things the Saturn has accomplished over its relatively short lifetime.
I'd like to take you back to think a little bit about some of those early
things, what it means in other ways, besides a trip to the moon and back. For
example, if we return to, say, May 14th of 1973 [scattered chuckles].
That may not ring a bell in too many people's minds, but it's a day that's
indelibly printed on my own, because May 14th of 1973 was the last flight
into space of a Saturn V vehicle. That was the day we put up Skylab.
And from the ground, where I was watching it with some of my crewmates,
it looked like a great launch. Over Florida you could see nothing but a
perfectly sunny day. Everything went fine. We raced back to the airport,
to Patrick Air Force Base there at the Cape, ready to come home, but we were
warned by the new director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Dr. Rocco
Petrone, "Don't be too optimistic, Owen. There may be a few glitches that you
haven't been able to see."
Of course, some of you would remember that there were, indeed, a few glitches
that occurred just beyond our line of sight. As a matter of fact, on the
third stage, which at that time was not Saturn V but was filled with Skylab
hardware, the micrometeoroid shield had been torn away. One of the solar
panels already laid on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. So there was a lot
that needed to be done.
And, the reason I bring this up is not only the fact that it was the last,
really productive, flight of the Saturn V, it realized one of Dr. Wernher
von Braun's main themes: not only a trip to the moon, but one of his dreams
of what a space station in earth orbit would look like. And this was really
the realization of Dr. von Braun's dream, of America's first space station,
back in 1973. And, of course, it was now in danger of total collapse.
We, fortunately, did have a backup
vehicle -- which now resides in the Smithsonian museum in Washington -- but
this is the one that we were ready to fly on the very next day, on May the
In my view, that next 11 days, from May 14th to May 25 of 1973, was NASA and
its contractors' finest hour in its entire history. And Dr. Mueller was
talking about that as well, but in that period of time, 100,000 or more civil
service people and contractors figured out what had happened, by the very
modest amount of telemetry that came down from the vehicle. They figured
out what the problems were. They figured out how they might be solved. They
figured out what kind of hardware needed to be constructed and conceived the
whole program -- designed it, built it, tested it, and flew it back to the Cape
and launched it on May the 25th -- only 11 days to do all of that. And the
people worked from all of the NASA centers and all of the contractors,
literally around the clock, to accomplish all this. And I talked to -- I
don't know how many people -- from the NASA community over the last couple
of decades about how their careers evolved since their time with NASA, and,
to a man or to a woman, with no exceptions whatsoever, the reports came
back to me: "My time working on Skylab was the high point of my entire
professional career." And I think that that's not an exaggeration -- I think
that it's really true, and many of those people are in this audience right now.
And so, really that time with Skylab not only realized von Braun's dream of
a space station, they solved the problems that arose on May the 14th, and
they figured out how to get it back into working condition within 11 days.
Now, there's another thing that I'm almost a little hesitant to mention, but
that is a book [holding up a book] -- well, it looks like a book, but it's
really just a draft. The name on the front cover says Homesteading Space: The Skylab
Now, this book, when the University of Nebraska Press
finally gets through editing the draft, will tell at least some of the Skylab
story, and a lot of it is going to be in the words of the people in this
audience. So, I'm very proud of that. I hope it represents it well.
I'd like to read two lines of what happens to be the dedication in the front of
this book. It says, "It's in the heart of the thousands of men and women
down here who made it possible what was accomplished up there. What would be
impossible today, individually, on these pages, the legions of people who
contributed to the Skylab program, their dedication and hard work, are truly
And I hope that that conveys the content of the thoughts that are behind this
book when it does come out next year.
And the reason that I'm a little hesitant or reluctant to mention this book is
because the authors here -- first of all Joe Kerwin,
the science pilot on the first flight, a
medical doctor; David Hitt, who
sits out in the audience; and I must admit that I'm the third author. I was a
little embarrassed about that point before. But, I hope that you will enjoy it
when it does come out, because it tells the story of Skylab in a way that has
not yet been told.