This Doodle Is Actually Concept Art Of The World's First Space Station

Illustration for article titled This Doodle Is Actually Concept Art Of The Worlds First Space Station

In 1966, George E. Mueller, NASA associate administrator for Manned Space Flight, produced a concept drawing of what would become "Skylab," the world's first space station. The first of three crewed Skylab mission launched May 14, 1973 – 41 years ago, today.

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Illustration for article titled This Doodle Is Actually Concept Art Of The Worlds First Space Station

According to NASA, the concept drawing was created at a meeting at the Marshall Space Flight Center on August 19, 1966, and details the station's major elements. The name "Skylab" was adopted four years later.

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Stylistically, this sketch could not be more different from the concept art that was drawn up for NASA's budding Shuttle Program, or the Agency's retrofuturistic depictions of city-sized space colonies. But there's an undeniable charm to Mueller's scrawls, which look about as back-of-the-envelope as these things can get without appearing on the actual reverse of an honest-to-goodness envelope. There are few things more romantic, optimistic, or exciting than the birth of a big idea. To us, this sketch embodies exactly that.

H/t Corey Powell

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DISCUSSION

Close but no cigar. The first space station design was the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). Lyndon Johnson announced it in late 1963 as a manned space station for scientific experiments; in fact it was intended as a secret photo surveillance platform. We never built it because unmanned surveillance satellites got a lot better, but the USSR built a very similar one they called Almaz and flew three of them between 1973 and 1976; two of the missions were at least somewhat successful.