Link #156: Skylab Space Station Used A Hi-Tech Umbrella As Heat Shield!

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Link #156: Skylab Space Station Used A Hi-Tech Umbrella As Heat Shield!

Umbrella
Image credit: byJoeLodge/CC BY 2.0

The Sun can be very unforgiving. It goes about its business and has no care who or what it is troubling or destroying. In our last post, we explained how the natural evolution of the Sun will cause it to swallow our planet in about 5 billion years.

While this event is far away into the distant future, this doesn’t mean that the Sun doesn’t cause us problems right now. Take Skylab for example. Skylab was a $2.2 billion space station that was almost abandoned because its heat shield against the Sun failed.

This meant that the crew’s cabin would be too hot for the crew to survive. So, NASA improvised at the last moment with a device which was nothing but a hi-tech umbrella!

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Why Did Skylab Need A New Device?

Heat
Image credit: A-r-e-s/CC0

Skylab was sent into orbit successfully but its heat shield system failed. This meant that the three man crew which was due to follow the next day was held back. Because the heat shield of the space station failed, it became uninhabitable for the crew.

The failing heat shield stopped the departure of the Skylab crew because it could’ve caused them a few problems. The foremost problem that the astronauts would’ve faced was high temperatures to the tune of about 55 degrees Celsius.

This problem would’ve been followed by foods and films crucial to the mission getting ruined. Finally, the intense heat would’ve fried plastic components of the space station. This would’ve in turn caused toxic gases to be released.

How Skylab Was Saved With a Hi-Tech Umbrella

When the Skylab problem arose in 1973, NASA immediately put the departure of the following crew on hold. NASA also put its internal engineers and external contractors to work on finding a solution to the heat problem.

A wide array of solutions started pouring in. Some notable ones include the use of spray paints, extendable panels of metal, internal window curtains, wallpapers, and even inflatable balloons. However, none of these solutions were deemed feasible because most of them involved dangerous space walks.

At this point, Jack Kinzler stepped in with his umbrella solution. Kinzler was NASA’s problem fixer at the time. After hearing of the problem, Kinzler bought telescoping fishing rods. He used these to devise an extendable umbrella like contraption that could be put in place from the inside.

 

 Jack Kinzler NASA
Image credit: NASA/CC0

How Did Skylab’s Hi-Tech Umbrella Work?

The Kinzler solution was simplicity personified. A device would be extended through a small opening near the area where damage occurred. Once fully extended, springs would be used to extend a parasol that would cover the damaged portion.

This parasol would be used to keep the crew cabin from being affected by the heat of the Sun. The crew departed for the space station with the new device and deployed it while wearing their space suits.

This whole contraption was built by Kinzler and his group of 100 engineers in a matter of six days as opposed to months. Once deployed, it reduced the temperature inside the crew cabin to about 21 degrees Celsius.




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Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylab
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/skylab/
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/us/jack-kinzler-skylabs-savior-dies-at-94.html?_r=0

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